In a comment to Burke's post, John McFetridge notes that
"Sure, the movies still make money, but almost every prize-winner, almost every movie for grown-ups, almost every movie with real people and not cartoons or cartoonish stories is based on a novel filled with 'good writing' because it turns out that's the part you can't 'work with,' so you have to buy it somewhere else.The 'original screenplay' movies are for kids – cartoons or slapstick comedy, action and horror."That's why I'm happy to be reminded that, given a good novel to work with, an intelligent screenwriter can adapt the material to the demands of a different medium and come up with something not quite identical to the original but true to its spirit. Call it good screenwriting, if you like.
The subject here is The Shape of Water, both Andrea Camilleri's novel and its adaptation for Italian television's Il commissario Montalbano series. The novel opens with two desultory trash collectors in an open-air brothel called "the Pasture" or La Mánnara. Camilleri then offers a pointed, funny social history of the Pasture, introduces the family of one of the collectors (the family will play a role later), and has the two workers make a pair of important discoveries and a critical phone call.
The TV film, on the other hand, opens with a prostitute witnessing the crime that gave rise to the action described above, and that was a good move on the filmmakers' part. Camilleri's opening is one of slow, leisurely, at times very funny discovery, and someone made the wise decision that such an opening would be difficult to translate to the screen.
Elsewhere, the filmmakers combine two minor characters into one and change her nationality. They also cut out a comic sexual/romantic subplot and work gracefully around the cut. Again, it's hard to argue with the decisions. The filmmakers knew their material, they knew the media of books and television, and they knew what each could do best.
Finally, I hope no one will accuse me of Communistic tendencies if I quote with approval and amusement Camilleri's description of the Pasture:
"Most of the meat came from the former Eastern Bloc countries, now free at last of the Communist yoke which, as everyone knows, had denied all personal, human dignity; now, between the Pasture's bushes and sandy shore, come nightfall, that reconquered dignity shone again in all its magnificence."© Peter Rozovsky 2009