In a cobbled square in the ancient town of Tivoli, northeast of Rome, in late September, a large crew prepares to shoot a key scene in Italian period drama ‘La Storia’, which will be the biggest event show from pubcaster RAI Next year.
Based on a bestselling novel by the late great Elsa Morante – which ‘My Brilliant Friend’ author Elena Ferrante often cites as her main literary reference – ‘La Storia’ is set during the final years of World War II and its immediate consequences in Italy.
The eight-episode series, unveiled by Beta Film to buyers at Rome’s MIA content market, stars A-list Italian actor Jasmine Trinca – who earlier this year was a member of the Cannes jury – as Ida, a single mother of two sons, who hides her Jewish heritage and struggles with poverty and persecution.
Piazza Tivoli, where costumed extras take position, is a substitute for the Jewish ghetto in Rome in 1943. When director Francesca Archibugi shouts: “Azione! flyers begin to rain down on the cobblestones, prompting men, women, old people and children to look up and start running and jumping to catch them. Ida steps closer to the action and listens carefully to the comments the anti-war leaflet elicits:
“The Duke [Benito Mussolini] wanted a war? It’s here! France has nothing against you, so stop! France will also stop. Women of Italy! Your children, your husbands and your boyfriends will live in misery, slavery and hunger.
“It’s very important to do this television series today because it shows how war destroys children and innocent people: it is all the more relevant at this time. [with war raging in Ukraine]says Archibugi, sipping a spritz at a nearby bar a few hours later.
The director, whose latest film “The Hummingbird” has just opened the Rome Film Festival, stresses that “La Storia” is “a portrait of femininity and motherhood”. But notes that in 1974 when the novel was published “it was hated by feminists and Italian Marxist critics, because it did not portray history as class warfare”. By contrast, the book has sold millions of copies.
For Trinca, who has never done a TV series before, “the biggest challenge” with “La Storia” “is trying to portray how simple people can write history without doing anything extraordinary: it’s is my mission,” she said.
Trinca also adds that “Ida is not a stand-alone female character. She is not like some modern female characters”, but rather “she resists the horrors of war quite passively, even if she sometimes displays a ferocious feline strength” .
“But it’s through the little stories of characters like her that we’re able to bring these historical events to deep fruition,” Trinca says.
Adapting “La Storia” for television was no small feat.
Producer Roberto Sessa, of which Picomedia is part of the multinational Asacha Media Group, had to secure the rights from Morante’s heirs, one of whom is veteran Italian actor Carlo Cecchi, who was initially conceptually opposed to the serialization of the novel. Eventually, a treatment by the show’s screenwriters Francesco Piccolo (“My Brilliant Friend”), Giulia Calenda, and Ilaria Macchia (“Petra”) dispelled his dislike of made-for-TV “La Storia.”
“That was the start of our journey,” says Sessa. He then tapped Beta to handle the international sales of the 17 million euro ($16.7 million) show which will be RAI Fiction’s flagship series next year, ahead of the fourth season of “My Brilliant Friend” in 2024.
“La Storia” is produced by Picomedia with the French company Thalie Images in co-production with Beta and in collaboration with RAI Fiction.
Filmed largely in locations outside of Rome, the surrounding Lazio region and Naples, the show features a leading below-the-line crew with Ludovica Ferrario (“The Young Pope”) as set designer and Catherine Buyse (“The New Pope,” “Spiderman”) in charge of costume design. The cinematic ace is Luca Bigazzi (“La Grande Beauté”), who gives “La Storia” a desaturated look that Archibugi describes it as “not like you might imagine: it’s lively and sweet, and has a special tenderness that goes with the humanity of this story,” she says.
For Bigazzi, the goal is to make “La Storia” as timely as possible “through acting, directing and also cinematography.”
“It has to be believable,” he says, and tragically this story [war] repeats,” he says.
“We need to make sure the audience can relate to what they see because, although it’s not an easy story, we need to reach the widest possible audience with a form of storytelling that is both real and tragically realistic.”
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