Vulture: My Brilliant Friend and the Relatable Horror of Elena’s Zits

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Hillary Kelly – Dec 5, 2018

The “pimple on prom night” trope in books and movies always struck me as absurd in its tiny scope. One pimple isn’t a cause for concern. A pustulent Pleiades roaming across your cheeks, on the other hand, is the stuff of a full-blown identity crisis, especially since — as anyone who has ever suffered, and I mean suffered, from acne knows — with every outbreak your hands will magnetically fly up to gently stroke the crusts and potboilers forming on your skin, thus spreading the contagion and drawing out the agony. A pimple is an annoyance. Acne is a curse.

Which is why when Elena Greco — perennial sidekick to her clear-faced best friend Lila, even in her own narrative — emerged onscreen in the third episode of My Brilliant Friend as a teenager with clusters of zits wandering across her jawline and forehead, I let out a small mental cheer. A heroine, onscreen, with acne and all its attendant anxieties. That’s one small step for pimples, one giant leap for teenage-kind.

The Elena of Ferrante’s novels is afflicted with zit parades as well. Her skin, she explains, was “spoiled: on my forehead, my chin, and around my jaws, archipelagos of reddish swellings multiplied, then turned purple, finally developed yellowish tips.” She tries, like we all do, to rid herself of the pimples by popping them, but her face is “only more inflamed.” More and more crowd her face. Until the magic of the Ischian sun clears her skin to the point where Elena doesn’t even mention its former state. “I looked at myself in the mirror and I also marveled: the sun had made me a shining blonde, but my face, my arms, my legs, were as if painted with deep gold.”

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Vulture: The Hidden Meaning Behind My Brilliant Friend’s Neapolitan Dialect

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Justin Davidson – Dec 4, 2018

Italy is a 19th-century invention unified by an official language that, until the 20th century, most Italians didn’t speak. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of the four volumes of her Neopolitan Novels, takes place on the outskirts of Naples, in a neighborhood isolated by dialect as well as by poverty. Ferrante avoids transcribing the speech patterns of the street, writing out everything in proper Italian and inserting a clause to specify whether the speaker is using Neapolitan dialect or not. This saves the reader from having to struggle through laboriously rendered, potentially offensive slang à la Huckleberry Finn, and it also makes it impossible to forget how far the narrator, Elena Greco, has traveled, from her days as a postwar urchin to the heights of literary respectability.

In the HBO adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, director Saverio Costanzo addresses the problem in a completely different fashion: by casting local kids, filming in Neapolitan, and providing Italian subtitles that viewers can fool themselves into thinking they could really do without. Elena’s trajectory is the story of a woman changing her speech, and with it the trammels of class, family, brutality, and loyalty. Costanzo sets the parameters in the opening scene, set in the present, when an iPhone buzzes on Elena’s bedside table. Sleepy and startled, she answers in educated Italian, with a hyper-proper “Pronto?” At the other end of the line is a young voice from her old life; the son of her childhood friend informs her in thick Neapolitan that Lila has disappeared: “Mammà ‘nzè tròve cchiù. She understands, but her peers wouldn’t, not without subtitles.

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Vulture: Finding the Ferrante Four

HBO’s My Brilliant Friend stars were chosen from 9,000 children to portray two of the most elusive characters in literature.

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Phoebe Reilly – Nov 19, 2018

itting with the Italian stars of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend adaptation is like observing two sets of sisters. The Lilas — Ludovica Nasti, 12, and Gaia Girace, 15 — are raven-haired and intense. Ludovica frantically waves her arm every time she wants to speak, while teenage Gaia offers a haughty stare. The Elenas — Elisa Del Genio, 11, and Margherita Mazzucco, 16 — are timid by comparison. With their dirty-blonde hair and large green eyes, Elisa and Margherita appear shy and serious and somehow more accessible.

Up until now, lunch at an L.A. restaurant has proceeded calmly through interpreters, as the girls devour pasta and pizza that miraculously doesn’t offend their palate. But when the topic turns to the true identity of author Elena Ferrante, who famously writes under a nom de plume, the table erupts in a chorus of si, si, si and no, no, no as everybody — including the actresses’ mothers — starts speaking at once. The interpreter struggles to keep up. “They’re all saying they think they know who it is,” she explains. “It’s a writer that we met in L.A., but she’s Italian!” shouts Gaia. “There’s so many things that don’t jive, so we think it must be her.” She reaches across the table to high-five Elisa, who grins in agreement. Ludovica and Margherita shake their heads. They prefer the prevailing rumor, introduced by a New York Review of Books blog two years ago, that Ferrante is a Rome-based translator, or possibly a college professor. Continue reading