Lenù (Margherita Mazzucco), the chief character and narrator in My Brilliant Friend, is going through these kinds of changes herself – seeing different worlds and wishing to explore them. And she has the means to do that.
But it’s different for her best friend Lila (Gaia Girace), who’s far poorer but far more intelligent than Lenù. In episode five of this phenomenal and character filled series, based on the novels by Elena Ferrante, this band of best friends discover this world and see their place in it, for better or worse.
This episode, The Shoes, focuses largely on Lila, who receives two proposals of marriage in the same week, both from completely different backgrounds. One is from Pasquale (Eduardo Scarpetta), who we’ve met and liked and is a part of their gang, and the other is from Marcello Solara (Elvis Esposito), whose aggressive family strong-arms the neighbourhood.
The gang visits the big city
The Solaras are a horrid bunch, bordering on evil, but in this episode there’s a strange sense of compassion. When Lenù, Lila, and the gang visit the big city, the two boys are surrounded by rich fighting men in white knitted jumpers. The Solaras happen to drive by and, almost as a sign of solidarity, they help out – albeit in a brutal fashion. When they all drive back together, they gradually return to their true selves.
But why did they help them in the first place? They’re not friends – judging by the final scene of last week’s episode, they should be fatal enemies. What’s different now? Perhaps it’s the oppositional worlds – rich and poor, opulence and poverty – colliding, defending, attacking. When the group enter what looks like an upper class shopping centre, one of them remarks: ‘It’s like a different city’.
Marcello (Elvis Esposito) proposes to Lila (Gaia Girace)
It’s conceivable how the constant contrasts between rich and poor could’ve grown exhausting, but writers Saverio Constanzo, Francesco Piccolo, and Laura Paolucci create each situation with such vivid and harsh reality that it feels like watching real lives unfold. Of course it’s repetitive, this division is ubiquitous and defines their lives whether they like it or not.
That’s why Lila’s such a potent and shocking force in the series – despite her poverty, she spits in the faces of those who think they’re above her. The rich may have their wealth, but she has the strength and the brains.
With these hard themes, episode 5 also loves dipping into funny teenage innocence in and amongst the anger. The proposals to Lila are very similar to the glorious awkwardness and over-sentimentality wriggling in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, with lines like ‘If you say no, my life won’t be worth living’. Oh, the hormonal desperation! The naivety in these moments is sweet, almost heart-warming – like it belongs in a different series.
But My Brilliant Friend gives itself the permission to be pulled in different directions without being the slightest bit confusing. Although worlds are colliding, it’s like the series sees it as an opportunity to explore. We can’t wait for Lenù to see more.
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