Waves are duplicitous. There’s a calmness to them, a rhythm as they go in and out of the sand. They are shallow as they approach you, but when you wade into the waters, the shallowness slowly gives way to elements whose depths cannot be touched by the bottoms of your feet. There’s a briskness to waves, a refreshing quality that can bring you out of the depths of your maudlin despondency and breathe new life into you. Waves can also take that new life away and leave you shivering, cold, and searching for warmth.
These two episodes of My Brilliant Friend intertwine the idea of waves of on a beach into the enormous tumult that develops in our characters’ lives. The trip begins with Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace) arriving at the beautiful Ischia coast, both of them searching for something that was separate from their lives in Naples. Elena seeks the opportunity to experience requited love with Nino (Francesco Serpico). Lila longs to escape from the suffocation of her life, with the Carraccis one hand and the Solaras on the other.
The most potent connection that develops, however, is the one between Nino and Lila. They kiss and quickly their affair escalates rapidly and dangerously. Lila is ecstatic at feeling this love, for experiencing the emotional validation of a kiss for the very first time. (One could hardly call her brush with Stefano [Giovanni Amura] a real kiss with emotional context.) She feels everything she ought to have with the man who becomes her husband. It all starts sharply enough, with Lila falling back into her love for reading and finding the bits and pieces of nuance that draw Nino’s attention towards her. Elena feels a sharp pang of jealousy at both Nino’s attention and Lila’s in-depth reading of a book she called “easy.” It all spirals from there.
Elena swallows her love for Nino, keeping it buried deep within herself and only letting it slip through in her disdain and lack of commitment to supporting Lila’s affair. The world seemingly comes to a standstill, but she waltzes her way through it slowly. Elena thinks of herself as being centre between Nino and Lila, but as the affair escalates rapidly, her capacity to be that centre frays until it snaps. It’s emotionally draining for Lila to consider her life with Stefano. It’s emotionally draining for Elena to pretend that she doesn’t care for Nino and act as a conduit for their mutual affection for one another. By the time their tumultuous stay in Ischia has come to an end, the centre has snapped.
Elena wants to feel the romance, the sex that Lila and Nino have. She feels that Lila simply goes ahead and takes what she wants and that Elena lingers in the shadows, waiting for her turn, a turn that seemingly never arrives. The issue is one of perspective, of course. Lila’s approaches can backfire just as quickly as Elena’s but because Lila can be more forward, the backfires to her approaches just seem to be louder. Elena finds a physical sensation in Donato’s predatory behaviour, but she severs it afterwards, walking away without regret and drawing a line of agency and power around herself and her independence.
The reveal of the affair is inevitable and yet again Stefano’s outbursts arrive in the form of intense physical abuse. He is the obtuse figure of toxic masculinity in every form that someone can be, incapable of speaking his feelings but instead acting them out in brutal violence. When Elena looks at the two of them on the boat back to Naples, her mind and heart overcome with the tumult of Ischia, she snaps those bonds tying her to them. She needs to live for herself, to form her own sense of self apart from the people around her, and she needs to be able to walk into the waves without the fear that they will simply take her all the way out into the calm and unforgiving sea.
+ The cinematography of this series is genuinely stunning. The eye shots on the beach in episode five are a particular highlight.
+ Some books in Elena’s repertoire: The Idea of Nation, Hiroshima, The Day After, The Theater of Samuel Beckett.
+ Pinuccia’s (Federica Sollazzo) quiet heartbreak echoed quite loudly.
+ The theme of class divisions is always there, subtle, deep, always changing in its nuance.
+ The men of this series continue to be largely terrible.