BuzzFeed News: HBO’s “My Brilliant Friend” Shows The Life-And-Death Stakes Of Elena Ferrante’s Novel

As a reader, it’s easy to gloss over the violence and chaos in Ferrante’s story of two girls growing up in mid-century Naples. Onscreen, it’s much more urgent.

On BuzzFeed News

Ruth Curry – Nov 20,2018

What does a bad neighborhood look like in Naples, circa 1950? Monochromatic, drab, with dark soot and graying plaster and baked dirt puffing up in clouds when a cart or motorcycle or the rare automobile goes by. Laundry flapping everywhere, not quite clean. No greenery, no water, even though Naples is on the coast. Men clump in idle groups of three and four outside while indoors the women scream — at each other, their children, to no one at all. Brutal fights break out, three or four against one; the victim slumps bloody in the gutter and eventually his children help him up, crying, limping.

“We lived in a world in which children and adults were often wounded, blood flowed from the wounds, they festered, and sometimes people died. … Our world was like that, full of words that killed: croup, tetanus, typhus, gas, war, lathe, rubble, work, bombardment, bomb, tuberculosis, infection,” Elena Ferrante writes in My Brilliant Friend, the first in her quartet of novels about the coming of age of two girls in postwar Naples, which has now been adapted by the Italian director Saverio Costanzo into a miniseries for HBO, which began airing Nov. 18.

The adaptation is obsessively faithful to its source material; it’s even in Italian, with English subtitles, a mimesis of the fact that, for non-Italian speakers, the translated books themselves are a kind of adaptation. But Costanzo’s most striking accomplishment is the visual life he brings to those “words that killed” and the neighborhood that engendered them. Without spectacle and without gratuitousness, the screen gives the pervasive violence of the novels a substance and permanence that’s more physical than what your reading imagination can produce, and thus much more urgent.