My Brilliant Friend
Official HBO Trailer
Show Is Based On The First Book Of Elena Ferrante’s Bestselling Quadrilogy
The bestselling Italian novelist behind the highly acclaimed Neapolitan series writes a weekly column on life, love, the female experience and everything in between
Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), which was made into a film directed by Roberto Faenza, Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), adapted by Mario Martone, and The Lost Daughter (Europa, 2008), soon to be a film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is also the author of Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey (Europa, 2016) in which she recounts her experience as a novelist, and a children’s picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night (Europa, 2016). The four volumes known as the “Neapolitan quartet” (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) were published in America by Europa between 2012 and 2015. The first season of the HBO series My Brilliant Friend, directed by Saverio Costanzo, premiered in 2018.
Recent Press on the Tv Series
Feb 1, 2019 – Rachel Vorona Cote
The summer before my senior year of high school, I spent three weeks at a French immersion sleepaway camp. While enrolled, we were contractually bound to speak and read only French, and we consumed exclusively French media. Only one leniency forestalled total cultural isolation: We were permitted to write and receive letters in English. I had forgotten to make note of my best friend’s home address, but assumed the issue would be resolved when she sent her first letter to me. In the meantime, I dutifully wrote to her each day, my first letter swelling into a lengthy diaristic account of my Francophile experiences. Yet she never wrote to me once over those three weeks, and so I never sent her that roving, tome-like epistle. I suspect that I reread it later in the summer and, in a fit of embarrassment, threw it away.
Love her though I did, my best friend oftentimes baffled and vexed me, and I’m certain that she felt similarly about me. I tracked evidence that pointed to her reciprocated affection—the number of weekends spent together, the fond remarks, the articulated assurance that I was her best friend. I was her confidant, but I often worried that my disposition condemned me to need her more than she would ever need me. And like My Brilliant Friend’s Elena—who, in despair, awaits letters from her own best friend, Lila—I grew increasingly agitated that my friend’s silence confirmed my fear.
Jan 1, 2019 – T. M. Weedon
The show opens on the blue glow of a vibrating phone in a darkened bedroom in the middle of the night. The next evening, Elena, 60 years old, sits down at her laptop to write the story of a friendship. Not again during the series will anonymous screens interface between individuals. We leave Elena’s solitude for the dense social network of a 1950s neighborhood in Naples, Italy, where gossip jumps from balcony to balcony as women hang the laundry and each family is defined by the necessary trade they provide to the community. The Cerullo’s are the shoemakers; the Solara’s tend the café; the Carracci’s run the grocery; the Scanno’s sell fruits and vegetables, and so on, personal identities affixed through the symbiosis of small-town commerce, generations worth of friendship and rivalry.
To the eyes of a child, these tightly woven relationships are sprawling and wondrous, with darkened secrets underlying the apparent yet unknown alliances that surround. To the eyes of a young adult, the stagnant, ancient make-up of the neighborhood is banal and suffocating, colored by violence and poverty. My Brilliant Friend chronicles such an evolution in perspective, as Elena, or Lenù, as she’s affectionately called, and her best friend, Lila, grapple with either accepting their own assumed roles within the community or devising an improbable means of escape.
Nov 15, 2018 – Dorothy Rabinowitz
Nothing about the glum opening of “My Brilliant Friend” (begins Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO), in which a woman in her 60s irritably receives a phone call about an old friend gone missing, prepares us for the extraordinary chapters to follow. This is just as well. The purity of the drama that follows has a shock all its own—a tide that powers its way through the entirety of the world encompassed in this saga based on Elena Ferrante’s novel set in 1950s Naples.
Jan 1, 2019 – Antonia Blyth
As with her previous work in projects like Secretary and The Honorable Woman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, doesn’t shy away from the raw underside of humanity in Netflix’s The Kindergarten Teacher. In the titular role of Lisa Spinelli, Gyllenhaalexploresthe downward spiral of a woman projecting her poetry ambitions onto an apparent child prodigy. It’s a dark and uncomfortable, but ultimately fascinating tale of the possible consequences of a personality shoehorned and silenced into the wrong existence, and one that Gyllenhaal depicts with her trademark depth and complexity.
“I’ve become more and more aware of the ways that none of us are fed in the ways that we need to be fed,” she says of her decision to do the Sara Colango-written and directed film.
Now about to head into Season 3 of HBO’s The Deuce, which she both produces and stars in as Eileen “Candy” Merrell–a sex worker with an artistic sideline directing porn–Gyllenhaal is also deep into adapting the Elena Ferrante novel The Lost Daughter into a film she plans to make her directorial debut.
Dec 28, 2018 – Karen Bojar
I’ve been in the grip of Ferrante Fever since 2013, have read all Ferrante’s novels at least three times and have written a book, “In Search of Elena Ferrante,” to help me better understand why these books have had such a hold on my imagination and on the imaginations of millions of readers worldwide. Given this history, I expected to be hypercritical of the new film version “My Brilliant Friend” on HBO, but loved it and am eagerly looking forward to season 2.
Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels trace the lifelong friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, born a month apart in a working-class neighborhood in Naples in 1944. The film begins with Lila’s disappearance and Elena’s attempt to recapture her friend by recording everything she can remember.
What only a novel can do:
The film is faithful to the novel although (except for the occasional voiceover) we do not have Elena’s narrative voice, her complicated, often contradictory thoughts, or her deeply felt but sometimes barely understood emotions. Although the HBO series is a successful adaptation, it has not shaken my belief that great novelists, and I include Ferrante in this category, provide access to the interior lives of fictional characters in a way film cannot. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet reminds us of what only literature can do.
Elena presents one face to the world — the impression of a “good girl” — while often seething with resentment and jealousy that she cannot fully acknowledge. Elena thought that Lila was still ahead of her in everything, “as if she were going to a secret school.”
In the novel, Ferrante writes that Elena admitted that in some hidden part of herself she looked forward to attending a school where Lila would never enter, where without competition from Lila she would be the best student, and that she might sometimes tell Lila about her experiences, boasting about her success.
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan saga will continue to unfold on the small screen, with the adaptation of “The Story of a New Name.”
Dec 4, 2018 – Nicole Laporte
Ferrante Fever continues at HBO. The company announced that the second novel in Elena Ferrante’s best-selling Neapolitan series, The Story of a New Name, will be adapted for TV, coming on the heels of HBO and RAI’s production of the saga’s first book, My Brilliant Friend, which will wrap up on Dec. 9.
The Story of a New Name continues the journey and friendship of Lila and Lenù, two friends who form an intense childhood bond in the working class neighborhood of postwar Naples. The four books in Ferrante’s series track their lives over the course of multiple decades against a backdrop of mafioso activity, intellectualism, and growing socialism and feminism.
The books have sold over 10 million copies and have a cult-like following stoked by the mysterious nature of Ferrante, a pseudonymous author whose true identity has been the subject of a global parlor game.
Eleanor Stanford, Parul Sehgal and Joshua Barone – Dec 10, 2018
This conversation includes spoilers for the first season of “My Brilliant Friend.”
When Saverio Costanzo, the director of HBO’s “My Brilliant Friend,” wanted to cut the story’s final wedding scene, Elena Ferrante pushed back, saying it was the scene she initially imagined when she wrote her four-part series of Neapolitan novels, of which “My Brilliant Friend” is the first. The scene’s inclusion makes a fitting ending to a season that has not strayed far from its source material. HBO has confirmed it will air eight more episodes covering Ferrante’s second Neapolitan novel, “The Story of a New Name.”
This week’s two episodes saw Lila secure her desired engagement and Lenù get a boyfriend she cares little for. Lila advanced her plan to make and sell expensive shoes with her brother; Lenù returns from Ischia for further adventures in school. Their friendship remains complicated by jealousy and competitiveness.
This week, Eleanor Stanford and Joshua Barone, editors on the Culture desk, are joined by Parul Sehgal, a critic for the Times Book Review, who has written extensively about Ferrante’s work. You can read our discussion of the first two episodes here, the third and fourth here, the fifth and sixth here and the Times review of the show here.
Eleanor Stanford – Dec 11, 2018
You’ve watched all eight episodes of HBO’s “My Brilliant Friend.” Maybe you’ve also gone back and rewatched some of the early episodes with the young actresses playing Lila and Lenù. Maybe you’ve started reading (or rereading) Elena Ferrante’s novel, and the sequels that follow. But what then? How else to prolong the mood and magic of Ferrante’s world?
Read on for what to read and watch now that we’ve left the neighborhood.
I want to know about the series.
• In his Times review of the show, James Poniewozik calls the series “as intimate as ‘Game of Thrones’ is sweeping,” noting that “My Brilliant Friend” “stands out in an HBO drama-series lineup that has been dominated by turbulent men.”
Miranda Popkey – Dec 10, 2018
In most respects, HBO’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is merely serviceable. It’s a re-creation, competent and faithful, of the events described in the first novel of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. The performances are convincing, the movement from scene to scene is pleasurable, the music is complementary but unobtrusive, and the set decoration is impeccable. One expects, from a production branded with the HBO logo, nothing less. And yet, in one respect, the series is in fact brilliant. Take it from this terrone: they got the faces right.
My Brilliant Friend is an account, painstaking and digressive and emotionally devastating, of the friendship between Elena (Lenù) Greco and Raffaella (Lila) Cerullo between the ages of six and sixteen. (The adult Lenù, now a successful writer in late middle age, narrates all four novels.) But it is also a portrait, universalizing precisely because of its attention to particulars, of small-town Southern Italy in the years after World War II, years during which economic privation and casual violence were the rule, years during which (very recently ex-) Fascists retained local power, their authority, like their comparative wealth, unquestioned.
I say comparative wealth because even those who had money had little, and what they could buy with it was meager: a small convertible, a single television. My Brilliant Friend ends in the year 1960, midway through the Italian “economic miracle”—il boom—that helped modernize the then-rural South. But the effects of Northern industrialization seem to have barely trickled down to Ferrante’s Neapolitan suburb; the poverty, the miseria, is still everywhere.
Taylor Maple – Dec 11, 2018
In an exciting move, HBO dipped its toes into its first foreign language series earlier this year, in cooperation with Italy’s RAI network. The project in question, My Brilliant Friend, has been renewed for Season 2 already after plenty of buzz surrounded the first episodes. My Brilliant Friend’s second season doesn’t have a premiere date just yet, but if it follows the schedule it established with its first premiere date, fans can probably expect the next installment of the series sometime in late 2019.
According to Variety, My Brilliant Friend’s first seasonis based on Elena Ferrante’s book, with which the series shares a name. The book is the first in a series of four, and Season 2 will take on the next installment, “The Story of a New Name.” “We’re thrilled that Elena Ferrante’s epic story has resonated so powerfully with viewers and critics, and we look forward to the continuing journey of Elena and Lila,” Casey Bloys, president of HBO Programming, said, per Variety.
The series focuses on the friendship of Elene Greco and Lila Cerullo, two girls who meet during 1950s primary school. The story follows them throughout their entire lives, unraveling the secrets and intricacies of their friendship. That kind of story could be the perfect subject matter to feature in an arc of several seasons, so the renewal makes total sense.
Recent Press on the Books
Frantumaglia : Elena Ferrante pulvérise l’expérience autobiographique
ESSAI ROMANCÉ – Elena Ferrante avait débuté sa carrière sous couvert d’anonymat, par timidité, finit-elle par avouer. Ce masque l’a abritée dans un temps, puis protégée, malgré les tentatives de journalistes pour percer le mystère. Qui parle quand Elena écrit ? Quel personnage-auteur se profile donc ?
Voyager à travers l’écriture, quoi de plus dangereux, et de plus mensonger quand un pseudonyme nous promet de parler de sa vie et de l’écriture ? Le rapport de l’un à l’autre est complexe, mais la vérité n’est pas une fin en soi : ici, l’essai importe autant que la trame romanesque qui, somme toute, aboutit à une autre histoire, dans l’histoire. Elena Ferrante, quelle qu’elle soit, est une amoureuse de la littérature : dans les multiples exemples que contient Frantumaglia — lettres, courriers aux lecteurs, à l’éditeur, interviews, etc. — elle affirme une réflexion sur ce métier. Revenons sur un point : voilà plus de vingt ans que Ferrante publie des livres et écrit. Et à ce jour, elle incarne le plus grand secret, entretenu et jalousement préservé, quant à l’identité derrière le nom. Sauf que les lecteurs, eux, s’en moquent éperdument. C’est ainsi que l’ouvrage divise les questionnements en deux catégories : ceux qui interrogent sur sa vie personnelle, et sont éconduits, et ceux qui tentent de trouver les signes.
Car, en fin de course, Ferrante nous entraîne d’abord sur une authentique piste de réflexion : qu’est-ce donc
qu’être auteure ?
La première édition de La Frantumaglia fut publiée en Italie fin 2003, bien avant que le succès ne l’inonde :
elle ne comptait alors que deux livres publiés, dont l’un, prix Elsa Morante, fut adapté au cinéma par Mario
Martone, conférant une certaine aura à l’auteure. Cette édition enrichie, comme l’explique son éditeur, se
double de multiples ajouts. En Italie, sa parution manqua d’être compromise par l’article de Claudio Gatti, qui
fit paraître une enquête le 2 octobre 2016, où il affirmait avoir découvert la vérité autour d’Elena Ferrante.
Un travail de fourmi et de patience, mais qui ne fit que lui attirer les foudres des lecteurs.
Depuis toujours, Ferrante pointe le texte, seule chose qui importe. Et les rares éléments biographiques connus
dans Frantumaglia servent avant tout à humaniser l’auteure. À l’incarner. Car elle est romancière d’un bout
à l’autre, et si elle livre des données biographiques, ces dernières sont encore romancées, et l’on cherchera
en vain les clefs — et plus encore, les serrures.
Alors personnage ou auteure ? Les deux, en réalité : quand elle cite Freud et Totem et Tabou , c’est pour
souligner le cas de cette patiente qui refusait de se servir de son nom, redoutant qu’on s’en empare pour
lui dérober ensuite sa personnalité. De l’auteure au texte, en passant par la figure de l’auteur, les questions
agitent la critique — quand bien même c’est le texte qui demeure. Et demeurera toujours.