Netflix Italy Chief on Elena Ferrante Adaptation ‘The Lying Life of Adults,’ Italian Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE)

Affectionately known as Tinny, Eleonora Andreatta has long been a fundamental figure in Italian scripted content production. As head of drama at pubcaster RAI she ushered in a new era by commissioning and carefully shepherding global hits such as RAI/HBO’s Elena Ferrante adaptation “My Brilliant Friend.” At Netflix, which she joined in mid-2020 as VP of Italian originals, Andreatta oversees the output of original series, movies, and non-scripted shows in the country where the streaming giant is on track to reach five million subs as it steadily increases investment.

The latest Ferrante adaptation, “The Lying Life of Adults,” is set to drop on Netflix on Jan. 4. The series marks the most ambitious Italian project at the streamer under Andreatta’s watch.

“Lying Life,” which is directed by Neapolitan helmer Edoardo De Angelis (“Indivisible”), stars Valeria Golino in the role of the crass and enigmatic Neapolitan aunt of the story’s young protagonist, Giovanna (played by newcomer Giordana Marengo.) The story depicts Giovanna’s transition from childhood to adolescence during the 1990s in a Naples that is actually two kindred cities that fear and loathe one another: the upper crust Naples of the high-quarters, where a mask of refinement is worn, and the Naples of its more vulgar and exciting low quarters where her intriguing aunt Vittoria lives (check out the trailer below.) The kinetic show is filled with music, Neapolitan color, and female growing pains.

As it prepared to launch in Rome, Andreatta sat with Variety for the first time since she joined the streamer to speak about how “Lying Life” reflects her vision for Netflix’s output of Italian originals.

This is a powerful show. How does it fit in with your vision at Netflix?

Certainly, as you said, this series is representative of the types of stories we want to tap into from Italy. That’s because one of the elements we are looking for is cultural proximity; the need to depict Italy and its deepest nature and strong cultural identity and its moods, the uniqueness of this country. One aspect that makes Italy unique is also its great diversity of cultures, of languages in its different cities and regions. Ferrante with her novels certainly created a world which, in a broader sense, is the world of Naples that is narrated with its strong contrasts. It is an extremely interesting world and furthermore it’s a world often made up of powerful female characters. Controversial characters who are not just represented in their positive aspects, but also in their defects, in their shortcomings. Sometimes in their wild freedom, an aspect that is certainly also controversial.

What would you say most differentiates “Lying Life” from “Brilliant Friend”?

Above all it’s that this story is set in the ‘90s. The fact that Ferrante chooses a specific moment in the life of her female characters. “My Brilliant Friend” takes place over the course of several decades. It’s a story that  through the friendship of two girls also depicts the country’s social evolution. In my opinion “Lying Life” is instead a story about a specific and extraordinary rite of passage and resistance. The one in which you transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. More precisely, it’s the transition in which all your ideals are tested. You lose the illusion that your parents are perfect; that your family can protect you from any danger; that the golden world in which you have been enclosed is the entire world. And you want to explore new borders, new places, and also you get hurt. 

So, in my opinion, this story really speaks to what we are tackling when we talk about Italian storytelling. On the one hand finding stories that can happen only in Italy. On the other hand, understanding how the humanity of the characters speaks to the whole world.

What is your vision for Netflix’s role in Italy?

“Lying Life” is definitely a milestone. At the same time, the content offering that we are working on in Italy is very diversified. Different types of products that cater to different audiences. We want all our subscribers to find something that makes them feel represented. Something in which they see their own need for entertainment to be both challenged and hopefully satisfied. The offer that we are looking to provide responds to the different storytelling needs that each one of us has.

My impression is you have a two-pronged approach: local product and international. Is that right?

I don’t see it that way. What has always fascinated me, even before working at Netflix, is the fact that Netflix has broken some seemingly “inviolable taboos” that had persisted for decades, probably for a century. One is the issue of language and dubbing. What I mean is the fact that they dub product also into English has abolished the previously existing tenet that the product basically flowed from the United States to the rest of the world. This perspective has been reversed and suddenly a world of storytelling has opened up in which you can create a story that captivates a global audience from anywhere in the world. For me this is a revolution. It’s even, if you will, one of the reasons for my being attracted to being able to work for Netflix as a commissioning editor.

So our mantra is to continue working on increasing the quality level. It is not an abstract concept. It’s a job that is done daily on every aspect of production. Trying to choose the best concepts and projects, and then working so that a director’s vision can come into focus and trying to accompany this vision to achieve a project with the best possible team.

 Ok, but it’s clear there are shows like “Lying Life” and “The Leopard” series you have announced that are likely to travel and others like Zerocalcare’s “Strappare lungo i bordi” and “Tutto chiede salvezza” that are strictly local hits.

That’s true. There are genres, such as comedy, that are perhaps more difficult to export. However certain phenomenons whereby you manage to cross borders. In my opinion that can happen in all genres and that’s why at Netflix the stage is open. Netflix offers 190 countries and gives the possibility of accessing languages. So it’s a stage where I also expect a variety of Italian products to play precisely because they are excellent. 

What are your most emblematic projects in the pipeline?

One of our most ambitious projects is certainly “The Leopard” [a series adaptation of the classic Sicily-set novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa]. And we recently announced that we are making Ferzan Ozpetek’s new film “Nuovo Olimpo.” We are particularly interested in a director’s unique vision and we are also convinced that our offer is a dialogue with the audience and that therefore there are no products taken individually that do not have a dialogue with the others [in our slate].

Overall, our representation of Italy is one where want to go a bit against the grain, breaking some taboos and telling the unknown aspects of this country. It’s very much based on stories that are true, or adaptations of great novels and films because this is a way to tell the story of the country. And of course telling true stories that are also controversial. “Supersex” [a series inspired by the life of global porn star Rocco Siffredi] is certainly an unexpected tale about an anti-hero, a big porn sex star. But we are telling it from a point of view of the writer, Francesca Manieri, in a story that has the structure of a social melodrama. Another emblematic story that is rooted in reality is “Lidia Poët” (working title) about Italy’s first female lawyer, who in 1880 was ousted from bar association as a woman. And we are doing this through a star, Matilde De Angelis, that allows you to explore a female empowerment theme, but in this case doing so with a light touch, in a city, Turin, which was the city of both positivism and the occult, she there is also this rich world being revealed.

Talk to me about your docs.

In Italy we don’t have a strong tradition when it comes to investigative documentaries that deals with a controversial topic. With “Wanna” we tackled a controversial character [Wanna Marchi, a TV saleswomen involved in a multi-million euro scam] without a preconceived opinion, but trying to describe a situation from different points of view with respect to that story. It allows the public to give their own judgment. I find this form of storytelling very interesting, very modern and I think it complements the type of storytelling of the country that we are doing. Of course we now have this new project which is “lI Caso Alex Schwazer” that we will drop during the first part of next year and where we are handling a very intricate story about sport and doping but with at its heart the eternal, and very human, dilemma between good and evil.

Then there is your first reality show “Summer Job,” based on an original format, featuring a bunch of Italian spoiled brats.

I deeply disagree. I want to be fair. What “Summer Job” reflects is an extremely interesting reality in Italy where you sometimes have youngsters in their twenties across all social classes who are overprotected by their parents. What we are dealing with is a group of young people who are not used to being responsible. Or having to work to get what they want. But they are not all spoiled rich kids. Some of them are even not particularly wealthy, they are sons of first or second generation immigrants. They are all super protected by a cloak that makes them needy to affirm themselves in a process that can be an education in enjoyment.

Are you happy in your new(ish) role?

I want to tell you something. Shortly after coming from a large local player [RAI], at Netflix I attended a meeting with other global executives that was a revelation for me because there is a contiguity within the industry across all the other countries. Being able to meet the people in charge of  production in the various countries and discovering how the needs of a story, beyond cultural diversity, are actually very similar has been an eye opener. You put this group of executives in a room and after five minutes we are all speaking as if it were something personal, about narrative structures and characters. About our relationships with talents, our common difficulties. We have common objectives within a very unique vision which then becomes diversified.

Because if we want to be authentic, we have tell our culture and the culture is different in every country. But in reality, what you need to make a quality story is very similar everywhere. So the level of learning from this perspective is one of openness, of intelligence with respect to new perspectives. Of solutions that come at you unexpectedly. It’s an experience that I consider extraordinary. I didn’t expect it to be so fascinating and so important for my professional growth. I think that this closeness and communication between all countries is somewhat unique. And not all companies are like that.

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