Following the fight between Cannes and Netflix, Venice has this year become the VOD film festival, something that’s demonstrated perfectly by HBO’s My Brilliant Friend, a series directed by Saverio Costanzo and produced, of course, by Paolo Sorrentino.
Based on Elena Ferrante’s beloved “Neapolitan Novels,” this 32-part series is a big production that centres on the performances of its two young stars, setting the scene in a small town where violence is always around the corner. But sadly, My Brilliant Friend doesn’t stand up as an adaptation of the original novel. The Italian-American co-production has lost all of its cinematic qualities, and tends to ignore the economy of Ferrante’s prose for explicit violence and melodrama. And with countless horse-drawn carts, period vehicles and extras hired to fill the stage, our attention is often distracted by the production. Overall, the oneiric poetry and mystery of Ferrante’s prose has been sacrificed by HBO’s vast production budget.
However, there is still hope. In February we heard that Greta Gerwig plans to make a series of Sacramento-set movies, spiritual sequels to 2017’s Lady Bird that will also be informed by Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Novels.” Let’s just hope that Gerwig can do the source text more justice than HBO’s offering.
Framed (as Ferrante often does) as a memoir, the first person narrative is heard over the drama, ultimately rendering the protagonist a passive onlooker. The actors have been directed to be so inexpressive that they do not seem to register the script, and the violence is so prolonged that it is almost gratuitous. But maybe this is what TV audiences are after and, despite all of its flaws, My Brilliant Friend‘s reception at Venice was warm.
CAST: Elisa Del Genio, Ludovica Nasti
DIRECTOR: Saverio Costanzo
WRITERS: Elena Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci and Saverio Costanzo
SYNOPSIS: Based on the first of Italian author Elena Ferrante’s four acclaimed “Neapolitan Novels,” My Brilliant Friend follows the story of two friends growing up in post-war Italy.