'My Brilliant Friend' review: Superb HBO show challenges gender roles and sheds light on gender dynamics
Set in Naples, the series showcases a small, rustic town situated away from the city, surrounding the neighborhood of the two protagonists
Elena Ferrante's best-selling novel 'My Brilliant Friend' has now become an Italian TV series on HBO. Unlike most series or movies that distinguish a woman or a girl based on their beauty, the series takes a different turn and distinguishes them based on their intellectual level, their bravery, and the sights they witness.
If you look past the emotional moments, political views and violence that the series holds, it basically shines in gender dynamics that determine how the two girls will become eventually better than men in their own world.
Set in Naples, the series showcases a small, rustic town situated away from the city, surrounding their very own neighborhood. The first episode that premiered on Sunday revealed that this entire monochromatic series will be a challenging journey for the show's viewers, even if you are among the people who has read the book before.
You will witness things being thrown around at every corner, screaming and mostly sounds of violence. Women can be seen standing from their balconies shouting at one and other about what happened in the houses and who slept with who. Challenging gender roles in this episode, we witness how girls are given the utmost importance in education and how boys are made to work at their parents' businesses.
The series is quite pensive and slow and follows two women Elena Greco (Elisa del Genio) and her friend Lila Cerullo (Ludovica Nasti), who also happens to be her enemy from their ages 6 to 66. Greco is described as a kid determined to learn, she has possessiveness and she envies Cerullo.
On the other hand, Cerullo is described as a brilliant kid who is brave, bold, capable of doing anything she wants to and someone who is demanding and not ready to be taken advantage of. The series is re-lived by an older counterpart of Greco who happens to be a writer and is determined to write and bring back Cerullo who has run away and wants to disappear.
The series, in its first episode, tells the story of how two frenemies cannot run from one corner to another without witnessing some violence or the other. In the hour-long episode, that aired Sunday we witnessed a man being beaten and thrown against the wall, a widow being pushed down a flight of stairs, and Cerullo, who is brave and brilliant hunted down and hit on her head with a rock by a bunch of fifth-grade boys from her school.
Though she is alone and attacked by a bunch of boys who are older, she single-handedly manages to win against them. She is again hit and slapped on the face by a dangerous criminal's son when she wins against his younger brother in a contest at school. Apart from that, there are pots, pans, and irons thrown from open windows, while school kids all smack each other in their school hallways.
But, if you look past all these fights, shrieks and blood, you will get to see through the eyes of these two girls, how hard it was being a woman or a girl in the 1950's. As mentioned earlier, 'My Brilliant Friend' is unlike most series or movies that emphasize a girl's value on beauty or wealth. This series showcases how intelligent a girl is.
Especially with the ongoing competition between Elena and Lila in class to see who is the smartest. In the series, we witness Greco reveal it was Cerullo who kept her going and driven to achieve in class. Determined to empower female students, Greco and Cerullo are selected to represent their class against two older boys. It does show a feminist streak, but it is something like you've never seen before.
Apart from the scenes where the girls are shown as the brilliant students in class, the scenes where they witness the bickering from one balcony to another among the women in the neighborhood, to the fight between the widow and the women whose husband is lurking around the widow, these girls are being introduced into womanhood. It shows no matter what age you are at, there is no safety and there is violence lying around every corner.