Bitchmedia: In “My brilliant friend,” companionship and survival are forever linked

On Bitchmedia

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.

Read more

Medium: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND: A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance

On Medium

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.

Read more

The Wall Street Journal: The eight-part HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel about childhood friends is an irresistible achievement.

On The Wall Street Journal

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.

Read more

Deadline: Maggie Gyllenhaal on ‘The Kindergarten Teacher’, ‘The Deuce’ & Not Starring in Her Elena Ferrante Adaptation

On Deadline

Jan 1, 2019 – Antonia Blyth

As with her previous work in projects like Secretary and The Honorable WomanMaggie Gyllenhaal, doesn’t shy away from the raw underside of humanity in Netflix’s The Kindergarten TeacherIn 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.

Read more

Chestnut Hill Local: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ adds to Ferrante original

On Chestnut Hill Local

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.

Read more

Fast Company: HBO gives the world more Ferrante with “My Brilliant Friend” season 2

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan saga will continue to unfold on the small screen, with the adaptation of “The Story of a New Name.”

On Fast Company

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

Read more

The New York Times: Has HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Finale Left You Wanting More?

On The New York Times

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.

[Read our critics’ list of the year’s best TV including new series, streaming and foreign fare.]

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.

Read more

The New York Times: You’ve Finished Watching ‘My Brilliant Friend.’ Here’s What to Do Next.

On The New York Times

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.”

• Here at the Times we gathered a weekly group of Ferrante fans to discuss the show as it aired. You can read the conversation about the final two episodes here, and the rest here.

Read more

The Paris Review: The Faces of Ferrante

On The Paris Review

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.

Read more

Bustle: When Does ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Season 2 Premiere? The Italian HBO Series Has Been Met With Serious Praise

On Bustle

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.

Read more

Thrive Global: HBO’s My Brilliant Friend Illuminates 4 Philosophical Truths That No One Is Talking About

On Thrive Global

Stephanie Fairyngton – Dec 5, 2018

The series based on the bestselling book by Elena Ferrante shows how to triumph over the harshest obstacles.

The new HBO series, My Brilliant Friend, based on the first of four Neapolitan novels — all international bestsellers — by Italian literary sensation Elena Ferrante tells the story of two intellectually gifted girls, Elena (Lenú) and Lila, growing up in a gritty piazza in post-World War II Naples. In their rough neighborhood, basic resources are scarce, fists solve conflicts, men violently dominate women, and small children labor to help keep their families afloat.

Lenú and Lila, with their insatiable appetites for knowledge and ability to imagine a better future, shine the brightest in their drab environs. While others in their town, beaten down and impoverished, can’t see beyond the borders of their walled-in reality, Lenú (cautious, reserved, steady, intelligent) and Lila (ferocious, wild, severe, brilliant) dare to think bigger. As young girls, they ditch their curfews and venture to the sea — a symbol of change, adventure, mystery, and power — and a sight Lila has never seen, despite living in such close proximity. While Lila instigates their exploit, she chickens out midway amid Lenú’s protests to continue, foreshadowing the larger life Lenú will go on to live.

The story of Lila and Lenú’s fiery friendship — a tempestuous romance of sorts  — offers fundamental lessons on how to endure despite the grossest forms of social injustice and daily struggle.

Read more

Broadly:’My Brilliant Friend’ Is an Exquisite Look at Feeling Trapped

On Broadly

Maris Kreizman – Dec 11, 2018

In an HBO miniseries adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend,” the joys come from witnessing small slices of hope as a friendship buds in a bleak 50s setting.

The desire to escape the confines of one’s hometown is an urge familiar to anyone who’s ever listened to a Bruce Springsteen song or dreamed of moving to a new city in search of a bigger life. The heroine of novelist Elena Ferrante’sNeapolitan Novels, also named Elena, is no exception, and HBO’s exquisite adaptation of My Brilliant Friend brings this concept of fleeing one’s all-too-familiar homeland, to life.

The series, set in the 1950s, overwhelms with a visceral sense of how oppressive Elena’s little corner of Naples is. Articulating what we already vividly see just feels like being hit over the head with ones of the pots an enraged neighbor throws over the side of her balcony. No need.

I come to My Brilliant Friend as a devoted fan of the Neapolitan Novels series. I’ve read the author’s standalone books and her Guardian column, and I’ve read much of the speculation about who the mysterious author writing under the pen name Elena Ferrante really is, including the maddening takes in earlier days when critics (mostly men) guessed that Ferrante was actually a man. All the while, in the back of my head, I started to think of My Brilliant Friend as the setup book, the one you needed to get through in order to properly enjoy the other, better books to come. Book One was about being introduced to the friendship Elena and her soulmate and bitter rival, Lila, share; getting a sense of Ferrante’s anti-capitalist ideologies; and trying to keep track of the many different Italian names and nicknames.

Read more

Forward: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Feels A Little Fake — That’s What Makes It Faithful

On Forward

PJ Grisar – Dec 12, 2018

While already lauded or rejected for its fidelity to the source material, HBO’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” has also been derided for feeling a little phony.

In an otherwise glowing review in The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum remarked that the show “has the polish of certain well-funded historical portraits of poverty.” Her colleague Troy Patterson agreed, calling it “a Prada ad for working-class gloom.” In a piece for the LA Times, Robert Lloyd noted that the early episodes’ cityscape “feels barren, artificial and dreamlike, like something out of Antonioni or Fellini.” But all three critics, and scores more, claimed that the series transported them, slick production or no.

Why is the show so alluringly artificial? Is it the unavoidable reproduction demanded by its period setting that makes it like aspartame for the eyes? Is it the sound-stage-constructed square where much of the central action plays out? Could it be the director Saverio Costanzo’s imposition of Italian Neo-Realist homage? Or does the show’s aesthetic lie in the fact that it is a memory piece, many years removed from its narrator’s youth?

The eight-episode series’ veneered presentation stems from all of these factors at once and yet, the jump to television may not be at the root of it.

Read more

Bustle: 9 Quotes From ‘My Brilliant Friend’ That Will Definitely Inspire You To Pick Up The Book If You Haven’t Already

On Bustle

Melissa Ragsdale – Dec 12, 2018

Italian author Elena Ferrante’s best-selling, fan-favorite book, My Brilliant Friend, is now a television series on HBO. If you’re a fan of the book (and its sequels in the Neopolitan series), you know what a thrill this is.

My Brilliant Friend is the story of Elena and Lila, two young girls growing up in the turbulent, impoverished world of 1950s Naples. The story is told from the point-of-view of Elena, decades later, after Lila has mysteriously disappeared. The two girls share a deep bond; they are drawn together by their curiosity and their love of learning, and Elena recognizes something innately special in Lila. Yet as circumstance steers them in different directions (Elena follows an academic path, while Lila works for her family business) they are faced with decisions that will define their places in the world forever. It’s a story that brilliantly captures the experience of being a young woman in that particular place and time, and whether you’re watching it on the screen or reading it on the page, it’s sure to wrap you up.

If you haven’t read the books, you’re missing out on one element that makes Elena Ferrante’s books magical: her beautiful, brilliant prose. So, here are nine quotes that will give you a taste for Ferrante’s writing and Ann Goldstein’s translation — and will hopefully inspire you to pick up the book.

Read more

Culture Whisper: My Brilliant Friend finale review

On Culture Whisper

Euan Franklin – Dec 11, 2018

Despite not ending as well as it started, My Brilliant Friend has been a gritty, immersive, and beautiful series that holds the weight of realist cinema on televisual shoulders. Despite not being helmed by a female director, which it probably should’ve been, Saverio Costanzo plunges us into the world of female issues and servitude within the backdrop of 1950s Naples. 

The finale, titled The Promise, outweighs episode 7 in terms of conflict – but despite the emotion in the season’s conclusion, it’s rather anticlimactic considering the 8-hour journey up to this point. 

Lila (Gaia Girace) is making preparations for her wedding to Stefano (Giovanni Amura). Her family’s shoe shop has grown, and they have more expensive shoes on sale – all designed by Lila. Lenù (Margherita Mazzucco) starts to rebel at school by arguing against a priest and re-fancying Nino Sarratore (Francesco Serpico) despite his father and despite her ‘going steady’ with the mechanic Antonio (Christian Giroso).

Read more