'My Brilliant Friend': The show manages to recreate the sense of dilapidation of Elena Ferrante's novel
As a loyal adaptation of Ferrante's heartfelt story, the show is not just another version of the book but a piece of art in itself.
Rarely has an adaptation of a book been able to achieve what 'My Brilliant Friend' has gained within the first four episodes. Starring Margherita Mazzucco (as Elena/Lenu) and Gaia Girace (as Raffaella/Lila), the Saverio Costanzo-adaptation of Elena Ferrante's first book in the Neapolitan series follows the plight of two young girls whose friendship is put to the test not just by the feud in the neighborhood between the rich and the poor, but also by how the brilliance of one friend is perceived as a threat by the other friend.
As a show, 'My Brilliant Friend', had the freedom of diverting from the text which provides very little insight into Lila's sentiments. Throughout the book, Lila is a human being who is observed by her best friend, Lenu, as the two explore the silent yet violent corners of their little neighborhood.
Unlike the book, where Lila's voice is heard through Lenu, the show has managed to establish Lila as a mischevious intellectual whose keen glances and anxious motivations drive her towards the edge of things. In the book, Lila is a looming presence who, according to Lenu, "injected energy" and "intensified reality" in the dried out world around them.
The show seemed to have extracted Lila out of Ferrante's words, and given her flesh and bones of a being ordinary in desires but extraordinary in intelligence.
Mazzucco as the teenage Lila brings in the fearless intensity that her character demands, and the Lila who we read in the book only to realize that how petty our thoughts are compared to hers continues to awe us even when she is embodied by Mazzucco.
Lila probably would have never been complete without the Italian filmmaker's sensitivity when it comes to setting up a background as drab as the Naples that Ferrante has referred to in her books.
Naples plays a character in 'My Brilliant Friend' in a way that it acts like the observer who watches the two young girls as they grow up to be ambitious young women, and whose only dream is to lead a better life than what their parents had promised. Ferrante's Naples was essentially "unbearable", as the writer has mentioned in the book, "There was something unbearable in the things, in the people, in the buildings, in the streets that, only if you reinvented it all, as in a game, became acceptable."
This very sense of unacceptability has been brought out by Costanzo who has created the entire set from scratch.
We can almost smell the dust when Lila and Lenu set out to see the sea beyond the city boundaries, we feel suffocated looking at the tiny apartments which often consist of more than four people, but above all, that neighborhood is something we all know because Costanzo has taken care so as not to rip off the hovering poverty that is the key feature of this neighborhood.
Probably we sympathize with the children's innocence as it gets accentuated by the dilapidated surrounding because both Lila and Lenu almost feel like ghosts in a place where no one strives to be better, but only to survive.
While narrating their friendship through Lenu, Ferrante had penned down, "She was trying to understand, we were both trying to understand, and understanding was something that we loved to do" which has defined Lila and Lenu's years when they were coming-of-age. Italian films holds the legacy of creating coming-of-age movies, such as 'Life is Beautiful', 'Pinnochio', and 'Cinema Paradiso', and each of them have colored the youthful years of adolescents in varied shades. With 'My Brilliant Friend,' the execution of adolescent reaches a whole different level as it is not just about the innocence of growing up but also the complications that gradually begin to creep in when the realization sets in that children are nothing more than the replication of their parents.
The concept of "smarginatura", which is one of the dominant themes in the novel, defining the dissolving margins between parents and children, was probably most precisely depicted in the fourth episode, when Lila stood watching her brother Rino, the boy who once wanted to fund her education, turn into a man as hostile and inconsiderate as his father, who had thrown Lila out of the window when she was only 10. The scene captured Lila's disappointment as the girl - who is a Communist at heart - stood amid shades of red as her brother's silhouette appeared against the dull yellow smog.
'My Brilliant Friend' is not only a precise adaptation of the first part of the Neapolitan series, but it has actually managed to insert the same amount of pity, empathy, and love that we had felt when reading the book. Lenu's voice is like a drone which flies above the neighborhood looking down at Lila who is creating her own little kingdom in a place where men do not hesitate to hit women, and gunshots are synonymous to doorbells. 'My Brilliant Friend' returns on December 2 on HBO.