The difference between knowing and understanding can be vast.
It is one thing to know that women are treated differently than men, but it is another thing entirely to experience it — and understanding is built from experience. It is one thing to say that you know the plight of the working class, how a subset of society is exploited and sacrificed so that everyone else can benefit. It is another thing to be a member of the working class and experience that exploitation and harassment on a daily basis. To know that your existence is an expendable bit of currency to your boss, a rich jerk in a suit who thinks he provides charity when he actually just sucks all the blood and sweat from your body to line his own pockets.
In My Brilliant Friend, Lila (Gaia Girace) finds her life to be a nightmare. It is such a godforsaken nightmare that when she’s able to do something as simple as take a deep breath, it feels like a tempest has broken loose. Her workplace is a catastrophic cesspool of harassment. Her wage is a pittance wage. Her work is so physically strenuous that if she continues as she does, it will literally kill her. But what choice does she have? She has no familial money, or money in general. She is raising a child whose father has basically forgotten that he has a kid at all. She is trying to drown out her mental illness through the distraction of heavy work but her body can’t sustain it.
Lila is deeply isolated and alone. The father of her child is more than happy to drone on and on about the class warfare entrenched in academia. However, like most men this season, he has absolutely no self-awareness as to how he perpetuates the very systems against which he claims to be a revolutionary. We now know that he impregnated and abandoned at least two women, leaving them to raise a child on their own in a society that deeply hates women and even more so, single mothers. That has to have a deep impact on a mother’s psyche.
Forming intimacy from such a place of loneliness and hardship is truly difficult. To not say anything at all is easier. To turn your shoulder and walk away is easier. To throw bitter words into the air like knives is easier. You don’t usually feel much better after that ,but sometimes, if the depression is deep enough, it just feels like another layer to add on top and at that point, honestly who cares? That’s where Lila is and after a young lifetime of depressive layers on top of depressive layers on top of depressive layers, a part of her doesn’t care anymore.
So when Lila asks Enzo (Giovanni Buselli) if she can sleep with him, that’s a truly significant step for her. She recognizes that he has been there for her in a way that no man has and she wants to try and form a bond with him, to take the risk of being hurt again because she, like all of us, needs to be loved. Enzo’s hesitation is also understandable, however, and in recognizing Lila’s isolation we also have to recognize the legitimacy of how others might be hurt by her pushing them away.
Lila does everything a woman isn’t supposed to do in a deeply patriarchal society. She openly speaks her mind. She takes no bullshit. She is intelligent and aware. For all these traits, people see her strength as an impediment, and yet she can never abandon the part of herself that knows she’s smarter than those around her. The part that knows the respect she would command if only she had the opportunities that were consistently denied to her. The part that bristles when she senses the condescension sitting thinly beneath the veil of bourgeois politeness.
Lila is a fighter. She has to be. With the nonsense that is heaped upon her with such relentless consistency, she doesn’t have much of a choice. And that lifetime of fighting makes it that much easier for her to see right through the rhetoric of fighting and see the people who actually have to do it and not because it’s an academic passion or a side project. There is so much rhetoric from people who see her existence and those of her fellow factory workers with the barest of solidarity, but that isn’t enough. When championing the righteousness of their cause to Lila, she is bombarded with “we’re all on the front line,” “we must be prepared to risk everything,” and “it’s not a contest.” And even before she faints, it isn’t difficult at all to see how she would bristle in fury at being patronized by people whom she knows she would blaze past effortlessly if she had the opportunities and class of birth they were afforded.
I think about the hall Elena sat in last week and listened to the rousing lecture of Communist students and how galvanizing that was. I won’t sit at my keyboard and pretend that I’m some great organizer who has a firm handle on building a movement, but intersectionality is a key element of movements that succeed. Lila doesn’t have the time to sit and hear a lecture about class consciousness. None of her coworkers do, either. They’re busting their asses full time and when they’re not inside the factory, they’re being intimidated by fascists hired by their boss.
The intention behind those leaflets may have been from a place of pure solidarity, but no one thought to ask any of the factory workers what would actually be helpful to them. In the assumption of acting without asking, the students displayed the exact flavor of paternalism that Lila can’t stand, the kind she feels behind the genteel eyes of those with more class privilege than her when she stands before them.
All of that’s even before Bruno (Francesco Russo) tries to assault her, a brutal and repugnant exercise of power by a man who’s lost all power everywhere else. Lila barely has any time to recover from that assault before Michele Solara (Alessio Gallo) reappears in her life, a vicious poison determined to never cease haunting her. And then she breaks.
I’ve had a fair share of breakdowns in my life, two fairly terrifying ones just in this past week. The form of a breakdown can vary greatly, but a key element every breakdown has at its core is a deep feeling that your mind and body are just not unable to withstand the sheer amount of suffering that they are encountering, whether that is internal, external, or both. You want to desperately find a space where you can scream at the top of your voice. You want to run and tear things apart in a directionless dance of depression. You lose control of your body’s stateliness and you start to feel that your body, along with your mind, is physically breaking down. All of that is conveyed in Gaia Girace’s performance along that isolated shore and on a personal level, seeing another character after Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana in Spencer have that kind of a breakdown was validating and made me feel less alone. But for Lila, I felt such a sharp degree of pain and empathy as she feels every little bit of her life just collapse unto her.
And in the midst of all these storms, she sees Elena at last and in that moment, there is such an overwhelming sense of love and warmth in their eyes that I was at a loss. You can sense it, how much they mean to one another, how in spite of all the turmoils that have crashed into their friendship, that more than anyone else, at the end of every day, they will be there for each other in a way that no one else will. There is so much in this hellscape of a world that matters, but to have someone who will be there for you, unapologetically there for you, may be the most precious thing.
– When Immacolata (Anna Rita Vitolo) champions Elena in front of Pietro (Matteo Cecchi), saying that she had never disappointed her, that she was her pride, the pride of their entire family, and she deserved to be happy–warning Pietro that he should never make her suffer genuinely got to me. My mother and I have a complicated relationship and even when we clash, that’s exactly how she talks about me with others, how I’m her pride and joy.
– The nightmare Elena has with her face being grasped was terrifying: more on this in the coming weeks
– Enzo is the one man whom I have seen carry a child this season
– The moment Lila talks about her son learning proper Italian but then realizing the likelihood that he could very easily end up as the servant of the people in whose home she was in was absolutely heartbreaking
– “Lila’s such a Communist that she’s never joined the party.”
– “Why do they only speak to students and not factory workers?”
– “I’ll make you regret the moment you put your hands on me.”
– “I do, but when did you fascists learn to write?”
– “Watch over me even when you leave Naples.” Reader, I cried at this line so hard