Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My take on the 4th episode of the HBO series My Brilliant Friend

Episode 4 is certainly the dramatic high point of the series to date with two of the most compelling scenes—the dance party and the New Year’s Eve party. When I first read My Brilliant Friend, I remember thinking that if the novel were ever adapted for film, these two (along with the wedding scene) would be key scenes; they seemed written for adaptation as a screenplay.

The dance party at Gigliola’s house showcases Lila’s transformation into a beautiful, sexually alluring teenager with all the young men from the neighborhood vying for her attention. Lila has developed a passion for dancing which, like everything else she undertakes, she does extremely well. Elena watches glumly on the sidelines, realizing that Lila has far surpassed her in beauty and sexual attractiveness as she has surpassed her in intelligence and academic performance.

The party ends on a sour note as the Solaras demand that Gigliola’s mother ask Pasquale to leave ostensibly because his father was accused of murdering the father of other guests, the Carracci family, but more likely because Marcello Solara perceived Pasquale as a rival for Lila’s attention.

The Solaras are trying to stoke the tensions/ old hostilities in the neighborhood, just as Stefano Carracci surprises everyone by rejecting the revenge ethic so deeply ingrained in the culture of the neighborhood and inviting the Pelusos to his New Year’s Eve party. Stefano grew up in a world where insults must be avenged; in the first episode we see a teenage Stefano assaulting Lila for besting his brother Alfonso in a scholastic competition. Given his background, Stefano’s transformation is remarkable.

Reluctantly Pasquale agrees to accept Stefano’s invitation and on New Year’s Eve the old enemies gathered at the house of the Caracci family to celebrate the New Year together, with Stefano being especially kind to Signora Peluso, first filling his mother’s glass with spumante and then the glass of Signora Peluso.

One ancient quarrel was resolved but another was burning brightly. The young men of the neighborhood engaged in their New Year’s Eve battle, armed with firecrackers and explosives. The Caraccis and their former enemies, the Pelusos, were on one side and the Solaras and their allies on the other. The scene is beautifully choreographed ending when the brutal Solaras, angry at being out done by the Caraccis and their new allies, started firing real bullets.

Lila’s response to the episode reveals the emotional fragility that coexists with the steely resolve she so often displays. She appears to have a kind of mental breakdown—what she refers to as “dissolving margins.” The extreme anxiety appears to be connected to her worry about her brother who has become obsessed with the goal of becoming rich.

Lila’s intellectual ability has up to now been focused on languages and literature; she now turns her considerable intelligence to understanding the social conditions responsible for her family’s poverty. She turns first to Pasquale for an understanding of the rule of the fascists, then World War II, the near destruction of Naples in the Allied bombing, the post-war black market in their neighborhood and the growing influence of the Camorra crime syndicate. In Ferrante’s memorable prose, Lila saw the whole neighborhood complicit in these atrocities—-“Fernando the shoemaker, and my father, all—all—in her eyes stained to the marrow by shadowy crimes, all hardened criminals or acquiescent accomplices, all bought for practically nothing.”

Ferrante has done a brilliant job interweaving the political history with the characters’ personal lives and Costanzo has managed to do this as well in the film-- a medium that lends itself less easily to this integration of personal stories with the historical drama.

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