Friday, December 7, 2018

My take on the 6th episode of the HBO series My Brilliant Friend

Elena takes her first trip outside of Naples, with the drab streets of the neighborhood replaced by the brilliant colors of Ischia. My guess is this episode will increase tourism to Ischia.

The episode highlights what will become a major theme of the Neapolitan Quartet—the damage done by deceptively charming sexual predators, like Donato Sarratore—totally selfish and unconcerned about the impact of their behavior on the women they seduce.

Donato’s son Nino delivers a damning indictment of his father, telling Elena that he was Melina’s lover although he knew she was an emotionally fragile woman: “Out of vanity he would hurt anyone and never feel responsible. Since he is convinced that he makes everyone happy, he thinks that everything is forgiven him. He goes to mass every Sunday…he is always considerate of my mother. But he betrays her continually. He’s a hypocrite, he makes me sick.”

Ironically Nino will surpass his father as an incorrigible womanizer. Since Ferrante gives us no sense of Nino’s interior life we have no insight into his transformation from a young man appalled by his father’s behavior to a far worse womanizer than his father.

When Donato learns that Elena is a student at a classical high school, his interest in her picks up. Donato’s wife Lidia notes his interest in Elena and is clearly disturbed by it. Lidia’s reaction is not in the novel where we see only what Elena sees. This is an instance where film has the advantage by conveying through facial expressions, what Elena doesn’t see.

Elena is taken by surprise by Donato’s sexual assault, which I found more disturbing in the film than in the novel. Generally, visual images of violence and sexual assault when portrayed in film are more powerful than when described in a novel. Fifteen-year-old Elena did not resist Donato and appears immobilized. The film’s soundtrack, more appropriate to a romantic scene than to a sexual assault—is jarring. For Elena, the experience was a mixture of repulsion and the stirring of sexual desire. Confused and ashamed, Elena flees the island early in the morning the next day; she told no one about the experience.

In an interview with Vulture, Director Saverio Costanzo explained his choice of a romantic soundtrack as a backdrop for a scene of sexual violence:
Saying he “felt such a sense of horror” about Donato’s actions, Costanzo added that he “didn’t want the scene to be realistic and therefore intolerable to the viewer. We decided to use a soft piano tune in contrast with the violence to allow Elena’s surprise to emerge in addition to her horror.”

I think Costanzo’s concern for the viewer is misplaced here. The soundtrack has the impact of minimizing the reality of sexual assault. This is the first directorial choice that I found seriously problematic.


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