This absolutely riveting adaptation of Elena Ferrante ‘Neapolitan Novels’ has got to be among the DVD highlights of the year. With its engrossing multi-layered plot, more than convincing acting and overall atmospheric cinematography it could hardly get better…

…therefore it’s all the more irritating that the white subtitles more often than not don’t stand out against bright backdrops (clothes, beach, cars, tablecloths etc). Ever thought of a black contour for white subtitles? Since most TV/DVD equipment won’t let you adjust neither subtitle size nor colour you just have to make the best of it.
And MY BRILLIANT FRIEND has plenty of ‘best of’ on offer! The captivating story of two lifelong childhood friends from impoverished Naples starts when the now elderly Elena Greco, an intellectual bookworm, learns of the sudden disappearance of her friend Raffaela ‘Lila’ Cerullo. Turning on her laptop, she begins to write the story of their friendship and the first episode of this 8-part drama takes us to a dangerous and impoverished ghetto on the outskirts of Naples in the early 1950’s.

Meet two little girls who couldn’t be more different: Raffaela ‘Lila’ Cerullo (Ludovica Nasti) and Elena ‘Lenu’ Greco (Elisa Del Genio). While hothead Lila comes from an impoverished working class background, Lenu is slightly better off with her parents initially supporting her ambitions to get somewhere in this world via means of a good education. Their environment is plagued by poverty and class divide, to make matters worse, brutal arch criminal Don Achille Carracci runs everything with his links to the Camorra (Naples answer to the Mafia). The first episode establishes not only the main characters (though there will be more during the course of Series 1) but also social structures and the daily bickering and hardship between the families. Lila, with her wild black mane and her fierce “I don’t take shit from anyone” facial expression, and the considerably neater Lenu strike up a friendship while playing with their dolls when Lila, impulsively, chucks one doll into an underground lair. When the two girls climb down to retrieve the doll they see the shadowy figure of a man at the end of the room and immediately think they are in danger (the ‘man’ is nothing more than a clothed dummy). Later on Lila bravely knocks on Don Archille’s flat and demands money for the incident in the cellar… the Don is amused with the girl’s cheek and plays along with her accusation. In the end he gives the girls a generous amount of cash so they may purchase a new doll. Instead of purchasing another doll they decide to hide the money in an old and derelict building on the outskirts of town. Later on they decide to buy a book instead of a doll. The book is ‘Little Woman’ by Louisa May Alcott, which they share and read passionately.

As fourth grades draws to a close, Lenu and Lila find themselves in a situation where they have to fight to continue their education. Despite the best efforts of their well-meaning elementary school teacher Miss Oliviero (Dora Romano), Lila’s parents are against her further education as they simply can’t afford it, while Lenu’s parents will consider it… Out of frustration of the general state of affairs the two girls decide to bunk school and instead take a trip to the seaside. But a sudden onset of bad weather and an unexplained change of heart in Lila sees the girls return halfway through their journey. Meanwhile, someone brutally stabs Don Achille and later on Lila claims she knows who the killer is.

In the next chapter, the two girls have reached puberty and are now portrayed by Gaia Girace as Lila and Margherita Mazucco as Lenu. The latter in particular is mightily confused over her first period and the onset of unpleasant acne, all the more reason to fully concentrate on her studies. Despite a massive row with her parents, Lenu is finally allowed to continue with her education while Lila now has to help out in her family’s shoe repair store. This situation places an invisible barrier between the girls’ friendship. Nonetheless, Lila – always the smarter and more feisty one - has been keeping a secret: she starts to write her first novel which an adoring Lenu hands to Miss Oliviero during private lessons… who initially dismisses the draft novel. On the romantic front, things change as well. While Lenu finds herself courted by Pasquale Peluso (Eduardo Scarpetta) – much to the dismay of Miss Oliviero who warns Lenu of Pasquale’s ‘Communist’ ideas, Lila stands up to dangerous and flash bully-boy Marcello Solara (Elvis Esposito)… however, her stance backfires when Marcello finds himself hopelessly smitten by Lila and her fearless attitude toward him.

Confused over her feelings for Pasquale, Lenu vows to stay ahead of Lila both academically and romantically though Lila’s only focus seems to be her secret ambitions to be a writer anyway. Promising a better future for the neighbourhood, Stefano Carracci (Giovanni Amura) who runs a very successful grocery shop, invites Lenu, Lila and their families to his place for a New Years eve party. Despite the fact that Pasquale’s father was murdered by Stefano’s father Don Achille, he accepts Stefano’s invite. Things quickly get out of hand when a fireworks display triggers a standoff with the rival Solaras clan. Meanwhile, Lila’s brother Rino (Gennaro De Stefano) becomes increasingly sick and tired of his working class existence and dreams of opening his own shoe factory. When things come to a head during an outing in a posh part of Naples, Lenu’s parents decide it’s time for a change of scenery and send her off to a summer holiday on the idyllic island of Ischia. On the island, Lenu runs into the Sarratore family who were her neighbours during childhood. Now she finds herself reignited with her ‘childhood crush’ Nino (Francesco Serpico) who is at loggerheads with this father, the charming but philandering Donato (Emanule Valenti). Just when Lenu celebrates her 15th birthday the outwardly nice but inwardly creepy Donato seduces the girl during the night – leaving her paralyzed with shock. Shaken, Lenu leaves Ischia at the crack of dawn to return to Naples.

Lila’s on-going resistance to Marcello Solaras courtship has reached breaking point – not only made worse by his many presents (he even buys a TV-set for Lila’s family) but Lila’s father insists she marry Marcello as it would better the financial and social status of the family. By now we know that Lila will always do exactly the opposite of what she’s told and so she begins a romantic relationship with Stefano Carracci (Marcello’s arch enemy!) of all people. Lenu doesn’t fare too well either as she gets kicked out of class for voicing her opinion while Nino encourages her to write an article for his semi-anarchic/semi-Communist mag about her experience. Still having a crush on Nino she is only too happy to oblige but is heartbroken when Nino, upon realising that Lenu is a better writer then him, decides not to publish her article after all!
In the season finale of Series 1, Lila’s brother Rino – still working on the patent for a new style of shoe with her… and his dream of acquiring his own factory appears to be nearing fruition despite his father’s reservations. But during the preparations for Lila and Stefano Carracci’s wedding, he secretly strikes a business deal with the Solaras (and with the knowledge of Stefano)… culminating in disaster at the wedding…

This is a rather abrupt and open ending because well, it isn’t an ending at all but more of a cliffhanger. I just hope my new shoes don’t wear out whilst waiting for Season 2…




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