Tradition occupies an erratic space between mythology and reality. It shapes who people think we ought to be, who we want to be, and perhaps most importantly, who we really are. Tradition is partly a reflection of the world as it exists, partly an interpretation by those with more social power and privilege, and partly shaped by those who want to form a closer relationship with the world around them so they can, at the very least, understand it.
Tradition can be inclusive, enlightening, and comforting. It can also be onerous, vicious, and oppressive. But tradition doesn’t just interact with us passively; rather, we don’t go through life with tradition just happening to us. We embrace some of it, fight against it and, in that friction, we discover and reveal ourselves.
When Alfonso (Fabrizio Cottone) reveals to Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) that he is queer in My Brilliant Friend, she greets the joy of knowing and self-acceptance in his voice with instant rejection. Perhaps he had read her book and thought she would be more open to rejecting the traditional bounds of heteronormativity. Perhaps he thought she would be more open-minded because of her education. Perhaps he thought that Elena, Lila’s (Gaia Girace) closest friend, would share her support. But for whatever reason or reasons, she doesn’t and the warmth evaporates in an instant.
Elena expresses a similar discomfort when Lila later demands access to birth control. It’s not a vehement rejection like her response to Alfonso, for she partly relates to Lila’s desire and wants access to birth control. But in that discomfort and in her questioning of Lila’s relationship with Enzo (Giovanni Buselli), she unintentionally reveals volumes about her personal journey. And while I can’t relate to her hesitation on birth control and am hurt by her homophobia, this character development makes complete sense for her. Elena Ferrante’s story is all the richer for it.
We often possess the intellectual and emotional intelligence to understand something. But when it comes to expressing that understanding in real life, there can sometimes be a disconnect. In Elena’s case, that is inherently tied to her relationship with tradition.
Homosexuality is against the traditions revered by a patriarchal, conservative society. The idea of women having sex for pleasure is against those very traditions. The idea that a woman wants to be more than a vessel for producing children is taboo according to those traditions. Elena has had her fair share of transgressions against these harmful traditions, but she hasn’t had to fight them in the same way Lila has and at this stage in her life, it shows.
Societal traditions have done nothing for Lila. From her childhood onward, she has only suffered abuse, neglect, and harm by those who swear by the sanctity of those traditions. So she fights back. She embraces what those traditions swear is ruinous to the foundations of society for such a society has never treated her with anything but cruelty. It’s not explicitly confirmed that Lila was supportive of Alfonso’s homosexuality, but the way he talks about it makes me feel that she did.
Tradition gave Lila an abusive husband and father, a father who looks upon his daughter and grandson with disgust. Breaking tradition has given her a supportive relationship with Enzo and the path towards building a future of her own. When she stands in that apartment in her old neighbourhood, I felt that for the first time in quite some time, there was a bit of hope in her eyes–that there was still something bright she could build out of the ashes life had given her.
– I could go on and on about the strength of the relationship between Elena and Lila, but it is truly one of the most profound and poignant relationships I have seen expressed in any story and the way Elena is always by Lila’s side as she takes the tumultuous journey through the medical system was truly moving
– The way Pasquale (Eduardo Scarpetta) crows about fighting for the working class while dismissing Lila’s illness as “a little fever” is indicative of an attitude that is still too prevalent in some revolutionary spaces today. If you don’t care about the people in your life, how the fuck do you think you’re going to be able to uplift anyone else?
– The shot of Elena pulling Lila back from the literal darkness was chef’s kiss
– “There’s no better medication for a woman than being pregnant” someone slap that man
– “You’re a writer. Make your role count for something.” More on this in the following weeks.
– “I know women destroyed by pregnancy.”
– “What men don’t want to hear and women are afraid of saying.”
– “Men behaved as if their desires were necessarily ours.”
– “Men only get married to have a faithful housemaid.”