MY BRILLIANT FRIEND SEASON 3: THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY (Daniele Luchetti). Premieres Monday (February 28) on Crave, with episodes dropping every Monday until April 18.
The second season of HBO/Crave’s My Brilliant Friend series premiered in March 2020, but production on the third season of the Italian show had to pause because of COVID-19 (remember Italy was one of the first countries severely affected by the pandemic).
Turns out that extended break was fortuitous, allowing the young actors to mature into their roles in this adaptation of the penultimate book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. It also allowed original showrunner Saverio Costanzo to pass the reins over to Daniele Luchetti, creating a distinctive and more casual visual style to reflect the material’s changing era.
It’s now the 1970s, and both narrator Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) and her lifelong frenemy Lila (Gaia Girace) are well into young adulthood, although their situations couldn’t be more different. After the success of her first novel, Elena marries the well-connected scholar Pietro Airota (Matteo Cecchi) and moves to Florence, where she soon becomes pregnant with their first child; Lila, by contrast, is still in Naples working under terrible conditions in a meat factory while raising her son with platonic friend Enzo (Giovanni Buselli).
Meanwhile, the country is going through a period of political unrest with modern industry battling labour unions and socialism, and some of Elena’s chilldhood friends caught up in the ensuing violence.
Thanks to the women’s movement, Elena is also beginning to discover the limitations and constraints of her marriage, particularly since Pietro barely lifts a finger to help out with child-raising. One of the most fascinating themes this season is Elena’s fierce search for identity. Against the odds, she’s done all the right things—gone to school, married well, found success as an author, had children—but at what cost?
Encounters with her Neapolitan friends remind her how far she’s come, but also what she’s given up. There’s a terrific moment midway through the series when Elena, Pietro and their two daughters are driving to Naples and are stuck in traffic; Elena takes the wheel from the polite, law-abiding Pietro and lurches out of their lane and into incoming traffic to get to their destination. Gradually, she learns to take the driver’s seat.
The scripts, cowritten by Ferrante herself, go further in the series than book three; and while there’s a dip in tension in the middle episodes, you’ll want to stay for the big satisfying finale, which all three seasons have been leading up to. (Not to give away any spoilers, but there are echoes of Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter in the final episode.)
Both Mazzucco and Girace are currently 18, which means they would have been 16 or 17 when they filmed this season. Their transformations are remarkable, especially Mazzucco’s, achieved partly by period hairstyles and costumes but also by an inner gravity and sense of confidence.
Luchetti has said he was influenced by the films of indie filmmaker John Cassavettes, and indeed there’s a loose, almost improvisatory feel to many scenes and a more restless use of the camera. This season’s standout scene features nearly all the main characters together at a dining table, with Ferrante’s themes of class, sex, violence, and politics practically crackling in the air.
All of this bodes well for the show’s final season. My Brilliant Friend continues to be one of the most evocative and intelligent literary adaptations ever made.