On a cobblestone-paved square in the ancient town of Tivoli, north-east of Rome, in late September, a large crew is prepping to shoot a key scene in Italian period drama “La Storia,” which will be pubcaster RAI’s biggest event show next year.
Based on a bestselling novel by the late great Elsa Morante – whom “My Brilliant Friend” author Elena Ferrante often cites as her primary literary reference – “La Storia” is set during the final years of World War II and its immediate aftermath in Italy.
The eight-episode series, being unveiled by Beta Film to buyers at Rome’s MIA content market, stars Italian A-list 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 fights against poverty and persecution.
The Tivoli square, where costumed extras are taking their positions, is a stand-in for Rome’s Jewish ghetto in 1943. When director Francesca Archibugi shouts: “Azione!” flyers start raining down on the cobblestones, prompting men, women, old people and children to look up and start running and jumping to grab them. Ida moves closer to the action and listens intently to comments that the anti-war flyer is sparking:
“The Duce [Benito Mussolini] wanted a war? Here it is! France has nothing against you, so stop! France will stop too. Women of Italy! Your children, your husbands, and your boyfriends will live in misery, slavery, and hunger.”
“It’s very important to make this TV series today because it shows how war destroys children and innocent people: it’s all the more timely right now [with war raging in Ukraine],” says Archibugi, sipping a spritz in a nearby bar a few hours later.
The director, whose latest film “The Hummingbird” just opened the Rome Film Festival, underlines that “La Storia” is “a portrait of femininity and of motherhood.” But notes that in 1974, when the novel was published “it was disliked by Italy’s feminists and Marxist critics, because it doesn’t depict history as class warfare.” By contrast, the book sold millions of copies.
For Trinca, who has never done a TV series before, “the biggest challenge” with “La Storia” “is to try to depict how simple people can make history without doing anything extraordinary: that’s my mission,” she says.
Trinca also adds that “Ida is not an empowered female character. She’s not like some modern female characters,” but rather “she withstands the horrors of war quite passively, though she occasionally displays ferociously feline strength.”
“But it’s through the small stories of characters like her that we are able to give a deep concreteness to these historical events,” Trinca says.
Getting “La Storia” adapted for TV wasn’t an easy feat.
Producer Roberto Sessa, whose Picomedia is part of the multi-national 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 novel’s serialization. Eventually a treatment by the show’s screenwriters Francesco Piccolo (“My Brilliant Friend”), Giulia Calenda and Ilaria Macchia (“Petra”) dissipated his aversion to “La Storia” being made for TV.
“That was the beginning of our journey,” says Sessa. He then brought Beta on board to handle international sales on the €17 million ($16.7 million) show that will be RAI Fiction’s flagship series next year, prior to the fourth season of “My Brilliant Friend” in 2024.
“La Storia” is produced by Picomedia with France’s Thalie Images in co-production with Beta and in collaboration with RAI Fiction.
Largely shot in outdoor locations in Rome, in the surrounding region of Lazio, and in Naples, the show boasts a top notch below-the-line team with Ludovica Ferrario (“The Young Pope”) serving as set designer and Catherine Buyse (“The New Pope,” “Spiderman”) in charge of costume design. The ace cinematographer is Luca Bigazzi (“The Great Beauty”), who is giving “La Storia” a desaturated look that Archibugi describes as “not like what you might imagine: it’s vivid 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 the acting, the directing, and also the cinematography.”
“It has to be believable,” he says, and tragically this story [war] is repeating itself,” he says.
“We must make sure that the audience can identify with what they are seeing because, even though it’s not an easy story, we have to to reach the widest possible audience with a form of storytelling that is actual and also tragically realistic.”