Vanity Fair: My Brilliant Friend: A Summer on the Beach—Without Lila

In Episode 6, Elena discovers herself by the sea.

On Vanity Fair

Sonia Saraiya – Dec 3, 2018

We’ll be recapping each episode of My Brilliant Friend. This recap is written by someone who has read (and loved) the original books, but there will be no spoilers for future plot points. New episodes are airing Sunday and Monday nights, through December 10.

The pages spent on Ischia in My Brilliant Friend, the book, are a bit tiresome. But on screen, the value of Elena’s (Margherita Mazzucco) time on the sunlit isle is immediately apparent. The claustrophobic rione, with its color-leached grays and browns, is a universe away from the turquoise water and verdant slopes of Ischia, an island within the city limits of Naples. Elena’s hair lightens; her acne disappears; her skin glows from the sun. In the time between when Elena first goes swimming and when the English visitors leave, presumably a few weeks later, Elena is so altered that at first I thought Mazzucco had been re-cast.

Maestra Oliviero (Dora Romano) presses Elena’s family to send her away to Ischia because of her prejudice against the neighborhood; the more promise Elena demonstrates at school, the more Oliviero feels the need to safeguard her from the “bad influences” of her childhood home. But although Ischia is a haven of sorts—a vacation from the claustrophobic power struggles of the neighborhood, as well as the judgmental eye of her mother—it’s still subject to the brutal hierarchies of Rione Luzzatti. Elena is glad to see the Sarratore family, and especially glad for the opportunity to spend time with Nino (Francesco Serpico). But her joy masks the awkwardness of her position—her role as both the hired help and a competent classmate, and her position as both a girl to be parented and one to be desired. The episode illuminates both the crystalline beauty of her first time living alone by the sea and the creeping dread of her vulnerability.

Read more


Vanity Fair: My Brilliant Friend: A Pair of Proposals, a Pair of Shoes

In Episode 5, Lila is a prize to be won.

On Vanity Fair

Sonia Saraiya – Dec 2, 2018

We’ll be recapping each episode of My Brilliant FriendThis recap is written by someone who has read (and loved) the original books, but there will be no spoilers for future plot points. New episodes are airing Sunday and Monday nights, through December 10.

It feels as if finally My Brilliant Friend has found its groove. “The Shoes” is an episode with propulsion, accelerating through the cast’s teenage years and surveying destruction as it goes. Last week in “La Smarginatura,” I discussed Lila (Gaia Girace)’s expansive, terrifying power; in this hour, we see why she’s afraid of it. Lila’s magnetism—her willpower, despite every sensible reason she has to succumb to despair—draws people toward her, men as diverse as Fascist rich kid Marcello Solara (Elvis Esposito) and Communist, blue-collar Pasquale Peluso (Eduardo Scarpetta). Kudos to both Esposito and Scarpetta, who channel their starstruck admiration for Lila like drowning men being drawn into a whirlpool. The problem for Lila is that she’s at the center as all these men are being whipped around around her.

What I appreciated most about this episode is how much we get to see Lila and Lenù (Margherita Mazzucco) simply talk to each other, as everything around them seems to rattle out of its frame. The episode has two moments where Lila is looking directly at Lenù, eyes narrowed, as Elena disappoints her—or withdraws, or describes the promise that her future holds. But Lila’s expression is blank, restrained, and even, in its way, generous—allowing Elena the future that Lila will not get, and shepherding her along the way with hints about Dido.

To my mind, Girace and Mazzucco don’t have the chemistry that their younger counterparts did. But if their conversations with each other do not reflect easy rapport, perhaps that is the condition of these uncomfortable teenage years, where a friend who is not a demanding man or a disapproving woman is the best companion to hope for. Because throughout the episode, it’s really only Elena who bothers to see Lila as the human she is, even though Elena is guilty of taking advantage of Lila, too, by copying her words on Dido for her Greek essay. At least Elena bothers enough to listen to the quality of her ideas—to the expression of her mind; at least Elena feels enough guilt and recognition to confess this to Lila. Meanwhile, the town around Lila seems intent on devouring her with their interest—savoring the taste of her contributions before ripping her to shreds.

Read more

Vanity Fair: My Brilliant Friend: A Couple of Parties

In the strongest episode yet, Elena watches Lila become the neighborhood’s singular force of change—from a birthday party to New Year’s Eve.

On Vanity Fair

Sonia Saraya – Nov 26, 2018

We’ll be recapping each episode of My Brilliant Friend. This recap is written by someone who has read (and loved) the original books, but there will be no spoilers for future plot points. New episodes are airing Sunday and Monday nights, through December 10.

The difference between last night’s episode and this one is so marked it’s like night and day: Where “Metamorphoses” was trapped inside the neighborhood, “La Smarginatura” starts outside of it, with Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) falling under the spell of the glittering waters of the ocean. “Smarginatura” is the term Lila (Gaia Girace) offers for a feeling that first hits her at the end of this episode, and later recurs throughout her life—“dissolving margins,” as it’s translated in the books. I love that the word in Italian (or is it dialect?) nearly has the word “smear” in it; that feels like a more powerful, and more uncomfortable, word than “dissolve.”

Lila describes this feeling as a profoundly unsettling one, but—as is clear in both the book and the show—it’s one that stems from her extraordinary power. Lila can see the shifting edges of the world around her, because she’s smearing those divisions herself—between the poor kids and the rich ones, the haves and have-nots, the men and the women, the murderer and the victim. This whole episode is one of dissolving edges. I ended my last recap lamenting how little joy was depicted in the show, and this episode was like a rejoinder: Two different parties, a trip to the sea, fireworks, dancing, and the growing solidarity of the young people in the neighborhood. Something vital is seeping into the community—and maybe, something is seeping out, too.

Read more

Vanity fair: How Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend Came to Life on HBO

“Ferrante Fever” is coming to television, but can a male director successfully capture the author’s tale of female friendship?

On Vanity fair

Joy Press – Nov 9, 2018

one of her fans know who Elena Ferrante is or what she looks like, but her pseudonymous novels have inspired the kind of obsessive worship most writers can only dream of. Since the publication of her novel My Brilliant Friend, a kind of literary delirium has engulfed Ferrante in the U.S. and across the globe—particularly among women ravenous for her complex depiction of female friendship and creativity. This “Ferrante Fever” spawned midnight release parties for her Neapolitan Quartet novels, a mini-industry of Ferrante-centric tourism in Italy, theatrical versions of her work, and a documentary about the author’s success.

The cult of Ferrante should expand exponentially with HBO’s eight-part adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, which premieres November 18. Like the novel, the series winds itself around the friendship of Lenù and Lila. Tucked away in a crumbling, impoverished quarter of post–World War II Naples, the girls are expected to leave school before adolescence and take up wifely toil. Lila stands out from her drab surroundings—a “terrible, dazzling girl,” as Ferrante describes her, who is almost as ferocious as she is brilliant. A life of the mind is not on the menu of options for these girls, yet Lila’s rabid desire to be a writer inspires Lenù and binds them together in a lifelong friendship, even as their paths diverge.

When it was announced that the HBO series (co-produced with Italy’s Rai network) would be directed by a man—Saverio Costanzo, the Italian director of the 2014 movie Hungry Hearts and the Italian adaptation of the HBO series In Treatment—many fans were surprised. Why not ask a woman to dive into the tangled emotional web of female intimacy?

Continue reading