Rage is sometimes a simmering quiet, bubbling underneath pursed lips, sharpened eyes, narrowed faces, and a glance whose depth is immeasurable from the surface. The expression of rage itself is a privilege, from the surface to the depths. Some people can yell, scream, and punish with their rage as if it is as boundless as the seas and the skies. The world is an immeasurable construct at the mercy of what they feel. For others, rage is expressed within specific constructs, confines, or walls. The way one expresses it changes within those physical confines, hence the contortions in one’s body language, the fear of allowing too much of one’s emotions to dance across the surface of one’s face.
The world of My Brilliant Friend is a world of physical, emotional, and psychological confines. These confines are imposed by people who derive meaning and power through that enforcement, whose formidable façades are so fragile that any effort to dismantle those confines are a threat to their very existence. Lila (Gaia Girace) finds herself trying to break those confines every day. The sheer force of doing so exhausts her to her very bones. And even the confine that she had managed to momentarily break–her abusive and traumatic marriage–snaps firmly back into place, leaving her even more vulnerable but still determined to retain her sense of self and not let it be swallowed by her abuser’s pride.
Lila’s relationship with Nino (Francesco Serpico) is doomed, their passionate and furious love affair crumbling in the face of Nino’s and Antonio’s (Christian Giroso) pride. Nino is a man whose pride is fuelled not by his intellect but rather by a particularly toxic brand of masculinity in which his intellect functions as a shield for his insecurities, his complexes. He was attracted to Lila’s intellect but only to the extent that it never challenged him or his work. The moment Lila starts to do that and even in the simplest, most benign of ways, the passion crumbles and reveals Nino a petty infant. He cannot stand, even if he won’t admit it, that Lila is smarter than he is, that she has a more fervent grasp of the challenges the world presents, that she’s a better writer – he cannot stand it knowing that Lila is far poorer than he is and never had the privilege of obtaining a higher education. That she is smarter than he is in spite of that gnaws at a him. He is a revolutionary, but the cheapest kind, the kind who theorizes about justice and equity, but refuses in practice to be anything but at the top of the social hierarchy.
Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) finds herself at a university in Pisa as the Italian Communist Party rises around her. Her boyfriend begins the season’s fifth instalment by failing his exams – exams, he argues, are inessential because making revolution was more important. Elena understands the revolution but the idea of simply giving up on her studies to run into a revolution is anathema to her. She doesn’t have the class privilege that so many of the students around her share – her only avenue for life security is through her studies. She cares deeply about what she is learning and just as importantly, her family depends on her. Even before her boyfriend he runs off, he buys her a new coat in spite of her ardent refusals. He does so just because he can. He can afford to jeopardize his education for whatever he thinks revolution is. He could go home the next day if he so wanted – Elena simply does not have that option.
Lila was removed from her brilliance and her desire to learn by class – it’s the original wedge that appeared in her relationship with Elena. She finds a passion for books in Ischia, in revolutionary writings when she was with Nino and in spite of him, and now Stefano (Giovanni Amura) has destroyed all of her books. She is confined perhaps more so than ever before – her trauma enshrined in a box of journals she gives to Elena. There is a promise that those journals would never be read – but Elena, perhaps worried, curious, reads them before sending them on a watery journey in the river. As Elena stood upon that bridge, the weight of Lila’s traumas in her arms, she realized for the first time that perhaps she had always been a step away–an “almost.”
+ Pinuccia’s (Federica Sollazzo) resentment at her child, after seeing her briefly experience true love (even if it was one-sided) was saddening.
+ The idea of masking fear with makeup, for the patriarchal understanding of beauty, was really poignant.
+ Lila trying to protect herself and the children from Stefano’s abusive behaviour was horrifying to watch.
+ The shot of Lila and Nino dancing in the dark was beautiful and, in hindsight, tragic.
+ Nino’s homophobia was an important reminder that access to education does not necessarily make a person less bigoted.
+ Antonio beating Nino had the tragic undercurrent of grief again rendering Lila invisible
+ When Elena’s boyfriend insists on purchasing the new coat for her (the blue one was better anyway!), it serves as another quiet and simple reminder of all the ways that men, quietly and otherwise, try to own women.
+ Elena’s mother coming to visit her when she was sick was really touching – it reminded me of my own mother and the similar difficulties in our relationship.