TELEVISION SERIES BONUS REVIEW
“My Brilliant Friend” (2018-) brought to the screen by Saverio Costanzo is based off the Neopolitan novels written by enigmatic author who goes by the pseudonym Elena Ferrante. The beloved stories follow a pair of female friends as they navigate growing up in a poor town on the outskirts of Napoli in the 1950s.
Narrated by Elena “Lenù” Greco (Margherita Mazzucco) as she discovers that her dearest friend Lila Cerullo (Gaia Girace) has disappeared without a trace, a fact that causes her to reflect on their intense and complicated friendship over the years. Beginning at childhood, the two girls become friends and quickly cling to each other as an escape from their rough, impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. There is a collection of characters in this town that grow with the series and have various impacts on their life, but the crux of the story lies in the girls relationship to each other. The two of them are the smartest in their class, but for women in 1950’s Italy, continuing education is more of a burden than anything. The families can often barely afford to give a full education to the male children, so financially planning to allow their daughters to go past elementary poses a challenge so egregious that it is typically out of the question. The girls have a passionate female educator, Maestro Oliviero (Dora Romano), though, who pressures their families to allow them this opportunity. The Greco’s allow Elena to move on to middle school, where Lila’s parents refuse to make the sacrifice, a distinction that contours their friendship and lives irreversibly.
This rapturous series went surprisingly under the radar, but those who were lucky enough to find it will undoubtedly be moved by the profound writing, eclectic and period-accurate costuming, the character archives and their arcs, and the aching ebb and flow of friendship. “My Brilliant Friend” scours the intricacies of female friendship, especially in ones most formative years. Elena and Lila experience mutual envy with each other, but they equally savor the way that they are one another’s most effective source of comfort. There is an unbreakable respect, a sort of captivation, that they have for the other, which feels like the most foundational part of their relationship. Both of their self-worth seems derived from the others opinion, a truth that they would be unlikely to admit, but none the less a truth that persists throughout the years in the way that they make decisions. The series, adapted for the screen by Costanzo, Laura Paolucci, and Francesco Piccolo, explores topics of gender, class, and history with a refreshingly thorough understanding of women.
Elena Ferrante writes under an alias and, therefore, is mysterious and anonymous by choice. Not only does this shroud the series in a surety and coolness, but it also begs the question – how much input could he or she had on the development of the show? Writer Tomris Laffly interviewedSaverio Costanzo on the process of bringing the books to screen, and he spoke lovingly about Ferrante, saying “We basically [would] write the show, the series, the season. And then we send the script to her and she made notes. She sometimes would say something, reworking dialogues. But what I found from the very beginning, [she was] very open to every change that we proposed. You know, there are some writers who are very conservative with a book. But she was really open from the beginning. I believe she knows cinema very well. She is a cinephile. In fact, many of the scenes of the book are in the series, like the dialogues, [as] they were in the book and they work wonderfully. So she has the taste for the kind of freedom that makes film and cinema different from literature.” He also goes on to say that “She might have masculine writing, but the heart of what she writes is very feminine.” This voice was undoubtedly carried through to the series, exploring the toughness and vulnerability of all the characters with a prudent eye.
The show falls into the genre of Italian Neorealism, and the creators chose to embrace this by adopting the characteristics of the Golden Age of Italian cinema: the story was set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location and frequently used non-professional actors. In the same aforementioned interview, much of the cast of “My Brilliant Friend” came from the street. They were not professional actors. There is such a strong sense of authenticity in the show that is exemplified in many other ways as well. The clothing donned by the characters is thoroughly constructed, created with a fully developed understanding of those who wear them and the time period that they exist within. Elena’s looks often revolve around her making herself small, invisible. They are built for function, not fashion, from her flat clogs to her hefty glasses. Her confidence is often a result of her achievements in education, a world that does not require her to dress up. In contrast, Lila is left to build her way of life elsewhere. She is scrappy and resourceful. She uses her sexuality to her advantage, manipulating the world around her to get further in life. Her style is defined by a continually evolving high fashion sense, adapting to the trends of the time and embellishing her beauty so much, it is almost to the chagrin or even embarrassment of her friend. These kinds of details elevate a show from being great to masterful. (Costume design by Antonella Cannarozzi).
“My Brilliant Friend” is outstanding. It is one of the most gripping, agonizing, razor-sharp pieces of work on television and it is so immersive that it is difficult to walk away from once it begins. It is just that good. Easily one of the best series out there & massively underrated. Should not be missed.