Dinner tables often support the best scenes in movies and TV shows. Even though mealtimes in real life require a fine balance between enjoyment and decorum, on screen they tend to erupt with the opposite. Over-the-table quibbles, criticisms and shouting matches are mesmerising in fiction. They turn into anxious spectacles, where preferred order is abandoned for honest chaos.
Meals are so crucial in the concluding episodes of My Brilliant Friend season 3, but in different ways. Across the tables, most underlying feelings of resentment, sexism and classism don't burst out. They’re hidden or suppressed, imploding instead. These scenes are written and directed so closely, capturing every slighted glance. That need for decorum is too much for both sides of the social and political strata to interrupt, whether rich, poor, fascist or communist. But those feelings need to explode somewhere.
These scenes feed the weird mood of this season. People continue their everyday lives while political assaults and murders happen around the corner. Italy's 'Years of Lead' creep up with violent, ominous mundanity.
Enzo (Giovanni Buselli) and Lila (Gaia Girace) in episode six, Becoming. Photo: Sky
In episode five (Terror), Pasquale (Eduardo Scarpetta) and Nadia (Giorgia Gargano) visit Elena (Margherita Mazzucco), who’s ascended from her working-class roots. The scene tensely and quietly unravels like a subtle hostage situation. As they eat pasta at the table, the words pouring from these far-left radicals seethe with disdain. No threat is spoken – their intimidating visit is enough.
The lunchtime in episode six (Becoming) invites many characters from Elena's past, nervously mixing with her more privileged present. The Grecos lock with the criminalistic Solara family, to Elena's dismay. Marcello Solara (Elvis Esposito) toasts the occasion by saying ‘To beautiful things’, despite it being the lunch from hell. Elena can never seem to bin her past, the Neapolitan neighbourhood always reaching back to strangle her.
Lila (Gaia Girace) also turns up, having joined leagues with Michele Solara (Alessio Gallo). She’s submitted to the family she had been resisting since childhood, embracing reality as she sees it (‘In fairy tales you do what you want, in life, what you can’). It’s a liberating and disappointing turn. Are all of us destined to keep reliving our familiar past lives without finding a different route to the future?
Elena takes pride in having escaped her conservative neighbourhood. And although she reluctantly submits to a lonely, caregiving role as wife and mother, she attends feminist rallies on the side. The first scene of episode five evokes those seemingly contradictory obligations to her family, her gender and herself: dragging her kids through hordes of protestors through the Florentine streets.
Nino (Francesco Serpico) returns! Photo: Sky
After a long absence, Nino returns to Elena’s life in episode seven (Try Again). He has several meals at several tables with the family and actually washes the dishes afterwards. Nino is by no means an ideal male feminist, occasionally falling into his usual, annoying soft-boy tactics, but at least he accepts that Elena has a mind of her own. Whereas Lila and the Grecos have become haunting aspects of her past, Nino is a freeing influence.
Elena resumes her writing, working on a piece about ‘the invention of women by men’ – incisively digesting and scrutinising Moll Flanders, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. When she says her first and only novel is eight years old, you wonder where the time went. She eventually evolves out of her stupor – willing to be daring, risking an easy and servile life for something more uncomfortable and fulfilling.
The beautiful and slightly surreal final shot of the season marks that change, one that suggests goodbye to Margherita Mazzucco as our brilliant friend. If previous seasons were about Elena coming of age, season three sees her satisfying transition into liberated womanhood: from patriarchal slavery to feminist freedom. What a brilliant journey.
My Brilliant Friend season 3 concludes on Thursday 7 April at 9pm on Sky Atlantic. All three seasons are available on NOW with an Entertainment Membership.
|What||My Brilliant Friend, season 3 episodes 5 - 8, Sky Atlantic review|
07 Apr 22 – 07 Apr 23, ON SKY ATLANTIC
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