|Young talents - My Brilliant Friend, and the Danger of Auteurship|
The excellent series My Brilliant Friend (Original title: L'amica genial) is a very good adaptation of the novel written by Elena Ferrante.
The scene in episode 5 of Season 1, of Saverio Costanza’s adaptation, where Lila’s father asks her to bring the shoe out, is a representation of Ferrante's apprehensions about the concept of an auteur. The scene is predicated on the shoes as an extension of Lila, not on the merits of the shoes themselves. Earlier in this episode, Lila’s father tries on the shoes, commenting how wonderful they feel and the craftsmanship of them. The scene, however, culminates in his fury upon the knowledge that it was his children who created them. A fact is established here that he does not view the shoes by their merits, but by the creators of them. His opinion of the shoes is wholly dependent on the makers, and he sees that link as inextricable.
This context, placed into the scene in question, gives us insight into Ferrante's idea of auteurship. The topic of conversation around the table is predicated on the shoes, however everyone involved is actually playing a game, the shoes to them aren't shoes, they are a way to talk about their true intentions. Marcello states his interest in the shoes, but in reality all he cares about is impressing Lila, offering her a business opportunity so that he may have her hand in marriage. This is confirmed later in the episode when he suddenly dislikes the fit of the shoes once Lila is no longer involved. In truth, Marcello has little care for the shoes, his interest extends only as far as Lila’s involvement. Her father in turn, switches his view of the shoes, becoming warm to the idea of showing them off and even becoming angry when she says she discarded them. The thing he is trying to get at through the shoes is the respect of the Solaris’, so that he may in turn achieve higher status. Her brother's interest is founded in getting the respect of Solaris as well as his father, to prove his worth through Lila’s idea.
One way or another, none of these characters are talking about shoes, they are having a conversation about Lila. This unspoken obsession over Lila can be felt through the framing of the camera. As soon as the shoes are mentioned by Marcello, the camera focuses on each member of the family, shot by shot, until it lands on Lila. The visual presentation is telling the audience that everyone at the table is thinking of one thing in relation to the shoes, Lila. Even though her brother helped in its creation, it’s Lila who takes centre stage. One can feel Ferrante’s philosophy shine through in this scene.
Ferrante was someone who preferred to stay anonymous, and discard her status as an auteur. This sentiment is channelled through Lila. Her uncomfortable moment is a way for the audience to understand Ferrante’s aversion to presenting herself as a public figure. Lila herself is essentially an auteur here, having designed a unique shoe no one can look away from. However the subtext of the conversation minimises her work, it makes her the focus and demonstrates the lack of care for her craft as a result.
An auteur, though a tricky concept to define, is well explained in “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” by Andrew Sarris. Sarris gives three criteria by which one can identify an auteur, of which two are really relevant. Firstly, an auteur is someone whose voice can be heard through their craft, when one's personality shines through and is identifiable only through looking at their work. In addition, an auteur is someone who’s attitude towards the story being told is reflective, and offers deeper meaning. Taking these two concepts at face value for what an auteur is, and translated to Ferrante's work, one wonders what may drive her to do away with this concept. One would think personality shining through one's work is something to be admired and let one stand out. This scene however makes one question this concept as a thing of virtue. The scene can be seen as a cautionary tale of when an auteur's work becomes attached to the person. From this conversation, a few things are established. Marcello is attempting to use the shoes as a way of getting with Lila. Her father is now pressuring her to show off the shoes, not out of pride but out of a need for status. Her brother wants the shoe business to succeed so he can get close with the Solaris’. Lila is put in the position where her actions inform the value of the shoes. If Lila doesn’t conform with Marcello's desires, her shoes become meaningless to everyone involved with the discussion. She is essentially being blackmailed through her own work. This establishes a concept of an auteur being trapped by their work. If elements of their personality inform the value of their work, their intentions and motivations to create may change alongside people's perception of them.
How can a piece of work shine through word alone, be judged for its own merits, if the creator is held as an inextricable link that binds it all together? Ferrante herself and her attitude on this can be found in how she describes her work. Namely, an excerpt from “Elena Ferrante, Aquamarine, in the Margins”. Ferrante states,
“Imagining Delia, Olga, and Leda as first persons who narrate in writing … was important for me. It also allowed me to imagine … the me who writes not as a woman who among her many other activities makes literature but as an exclusively literary work, an author who, creating the writings of Delia, Olga, and Lefga, creates herself”. It seemed to me that I could thus trace a perimeter of freedom” (Ferrante, 2022, pg 50)
Ferrante is stating that what made her comfortable and happy with her work was feeling like her characters were the one speaking. When Ferrante felt as though the characters were authoring their own story, it proved to her that her work had met the criteria of quality she was looking for. Ferrante views her novels not as thoughts she writes down solitarily, but as a conversation between her and the characters, where the characters are free to express themselves without her acting as the puppet master. In this sense one can imagine the nightmare it would be for Ferrante if she were put in Lila’s place. Suddenly her work is not felt as its own, detached entity, but rather just another facet of her personality. The shoes act as a sort of blackmail, trapping the author with the weight the men at the table place on them purely for their relation to her. Had Lila not been associated with the shoes, as was the case when no one knew they were working on them, she would not be placed in a situation where her success and familial status predicated itself on the shoes. Lila has lost the “perimeter of freedom” Ferrante spoke of, and now must live in fear of her work. Ferrante’s disdain of the concept of auteurship is communicated through the uncomfortable conversation between Marcello and her family at the dinner table and gives the audience a sense of what it means to lose one's freedom through their association with their work.
Theo Vasile, student Toronto
Sarris, A., 1962. Notes on The Auteur Theory in 1962. 1st ed.
Ferrante, E., 2022 In the Margins
Lecture 3 Slides
Theo Vasile 2/23/2023