Elena Ferrante

As many commentators have already noted, this story is peculiar within the oeuvre of Elena Ferrante, because her novels usually start with some kind of disappearance. This one, in fact, starts with an appearance.

Vittoria was the long-forgotten aunt, known to be mean and envious of Giovanna’s father’s life–a life in which he was able to leave the Neapolitan slums of his origins behind. This abrupt appearance of Vittoria in Giovanna’s life changes everything. The girl, searching for comfort from her mother Nella, asks to meet this aunt in order to see with her own eyes how she looks. 

Elena Ferrante explores the concept of beauty in teenage years

While the importance of beauty, especially in teenage years, is a topic that Elena Ferrante has already investigated in previous works, in this novel, it is particularly central. In the first part of the story, Giovanna wants to know if she’s pretty–she obsessively asks her friends and parents–and the search for her aunt is motivated by the distress of not knowing if her insecurities are motivated.

This search for beauty is ultimately presented as a symbol of the innocence and immaturity of Giovanna. In fact, the minute she meets her infamous aunt, she discovers that Vittoria is in fact so ugly that she cannot help looking beautiful.  

It is important to note that one of the first things that Vittoria teaches Giovanna during their meetings is that she needs to look for the truth. The aunt teaches her to question everything, especially in her family –she needs to observe her parents, focus on their most hidden movements, and question everything she’s based her life upon.

Throughout the story, the characters will always point at Vittoria for being ugly, but Giovanna will always looks pretty. This is due to the fact that Giovanna has gradually stopped looking for beauty: she has suddenly started looking for truth. 

Elena Ferrante - The lying life of Adults

Giovanna’s search for truth will lead her to discover all of the lies that her parents have told each other, but also all of the lies that are at the roots of every relationship in her life. She questions her relationship with her best friends–Angela and Ida–who judge her new life and her new choices. She begins to have relationships with boys and she feels the need to lie to them because she wants to have control over them. She discovers the good and bad sides of the truth: while it makes you free, it also makes you vulnerable. 

Vulnerability is something Giovanna will find herself running from especially after she meets Roberto. First love always comes unexpectedly, it’s a feeling that makes you feel so full inside that suddenly you’re at the start of the year, a new TV show came out on Netflix called The Lying Life of Adults (Italian: “La vita bugiarda degli adulti”).

The show is based on the eponymous novel written by Elena Ferrante, published in 2019. The show follows the story of Giovanna, a teenage girl whose world stops turning the day she hears her father say she isn’t pretty anymore. The words her dad uses are particularly painful, as he says, “[Giovanna] is starting to look just like Aunt Vittoria”. 

Giovanna is so overwhelmed by this feeling that she can’t help but do the only thing she’s learned to do to maintain control: she lies about her feelings and doesn’t let anyone know about her crush. 

The TV show is made up of six episodes, each one with a title that represents a phase of the path that leads Giovanna from the search for beauty to the search for truth–the very path that will lead her to the end of the age of innocence.  The actress that portrays Giovanna is Giordana Marengo.

Although she is very young, she’s able to stand out even in a cast full of famous actors. Marengo’s glances and stares are hypnotic, and she manages to bring Giovanna to life in a wonderful way. The energy (and lack thereof) typical of teenage years are portrayed so clearly, the exaggerated reactions and emotional upside downs are presented in such a natural way that she can’t help but stand out as one of the best performers. 

The most important characters in every Ferrante story are the women: even in such a peculiar one, it is vital to understand the oppositions and comparisons between different characters, with different backgrounds and life choices. It’s vital to point out their judgments and their views on the world, therefore it’s probably always hard to be chosen for such a role.

Vittoria and Nella

The actresses that portray Vittoria and Nella, the two polar opposites in Giovanna’s life, embody the symbolic nature of their characters. Valeria Golino (Vittoria) is a famous Italian actress, perfect in her portrayal of the emotional arch of Giovanna’s aunt. She managed to convey the feeling of broken beauty and realness that Vittoria represents. On the opposite side, Pina Turco (Nella) represents classical, traditional beauty and femininity.

With her looks conforming to the traditional idea of the Italianbella donna”, she embodies vulnerability and passiveness, a phoenix that finds herself alive in her own ruins. The choices for costumes and design give the final touch and allow Ferrante’s story to truly come alive.

The show takes place in a chameleonic Naples, a city that can be harsh and dirty, but also comforting and unique. The Naples of Vomero and Posillipo is juxtaposed with the slums of the Pianto neighbourhood where Vittoria and other characters live. Giovanna learns how to find beauty in disaster and how to find the lies in these great seaside views.

Naples is a city that can’t help being exceptionally alive, therefore making it impossible to ignore that the city is not a background, but a character. 

The Lying Life of Adults is a story that gets under your skin. Giovanna’s path represents a phase in the life of every young girl. Her very particular temperament aims to make both a reader and a viewer question whether or not she should have acted that way. She has an anti-heroic aura to her that can make her both an insufferable but highly relatable character. In fact, it’s impossible not to be touched by this story and attached to its characters. 

In perfect Ferrante´s style, even the end will seem like just another beginning. 

Watch this profound TV show and let it remind you of the intensity of teenage years. Remind yourself of the importance of questioning your beliefs and your ideas, because it’s something that people tend to forget once their lives start to depend on these values. Who knows, maybe you will find out that you too are starting to look just like Aunt Vittoria!