Season 3 of the sumptuous “My Brilliant Friend”

The Rai/HBO adap­ta­tion of Ele­na Fer­rante’s revered quar­tet of Neapoli­tan nov­els returns for its third sea­son (it’s been out, truth­ful­ly, for a while now), and if any­thing it’s even more impres­sive than sea­sons one and two.

My Bril­liant Friend, which is both the title of the first nov­el and of the over­all series, fol­lows Lenu (as in Ele­na) and Lila as they move through child­hood into adult­hood and maturity. 

With one leav­ing the squalor and cor­rup­tion of the impov­er­ished neigh­bour­hood in Naples where they grow up to become a suc­cess­ful nov­el­ist. And the oth­er stay­ing behind to stand in defi­ance against every­thing that bares down on her in those unfor­giv­ing environs. 

And through all the men, and sex, and births and betray­als and suc­cess and fail­ure, the one thing that holds firm is the depth of their fierce friend­ship, forged as it was in fire of youth.

Ferrante’s tetral­o­gy occu­pies a curi­ous space. Like the nov­els of Bret Eas­t­on Ellis and Philip Roth, they’re clear­ly and unapolo­get­i­cal­ly lit­er­ary, but they’re far too suc­cess­ful to be classed as pure­ly lit­er­ary. The clos­est com­par­i­son is prob­a­bly Tom Wolfe’s Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties

Remark­ably, the tele­vi­sion series not only does jus­tice to the orig­i­nal, if any­thing it improves on it. And it’ll be inter­est­ing to see what they do to cor­rect the fact that, between our­selves, the fourth of the nov­els isn’t quite as unput­down­able as the pre­vi­ous three, and rather drifts off.

What My Bril­liant Friend does so suc­cess­ful­ly is to use the close up of its inti­mate por­traits of two female friends and set them against the back­drop of every­thing that was hap­pen­ing in Italy. As it moves from the con­ser­vatism of the 50s, to the vibran­cy of the 60s and the agi­ta­tion of the 70s. 

What the tele­vi­sion series does, even more impres­sive­ly, is to present us with an unro­man­ti­cised pic­ture of how harsh life can be for all too ordi­nary peo­ple liv­ing on the periph­ery. But to do so by mould­ing exquis­ite­ly craft­ed images with metic­u­lous­ly com­bined sounds. The result is both vis­cer­al­ly real, and at once glo­ri­ous­ly cin­e­mat­ic and defi­ant­ly romantic. 

My Bril­liant Friend proves that not every­thing that has hap­pened in the world of film and tele­vi­sion is all bad. A cen­tu­ry ago, you would have had to go to a bespoke, art house cin­e­ma to find fare such as this. Films deter­mined to zoom in on the very local but to do so in widescreen tech­ni­colour cinemascope.

Like the Sici­ly we’re pre­sent­ed with in Tornatore’s Cin­e­ma Par­adiso, or the Provence of Claude Berri’s Jean de Flo­rette and Manon des Sources, or with De Sica’s pair of rov­ing, work­ing class lovers in Sun­flower (reviewed by me ear­li­er here).

Today, it’s not only read­i­ly avail­able on a tele­vi­sion near you, there are four sea­sons of eight episodes each. And each one is com­plete­ly and com­pelling­ly believ­able and at once tri­umphant­ly and glo­ri­ous­ly escapist.

Watch the trail­er to My Bril­liant Friend here

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The 2 or 3 good films from 2016, and “Sunflower”, a lost De Sica classic.



Don­ald Clarke is one of the few con­sis­tent­ly reli­able film crit­ics on these shores, so when in a recent Irish Times col­umn he described Arrived as one of the best films of the year, I trot­ted along to the cin­e­ma con­fi­dent­ly expect­ing to be wowed. A cou­ple of hours lat­er I came out scratch­ing my head. It’s all right, and it cer­tain­ly is one of the best Hol­ly­wood films of the year, but that sure­ly is set­ting the bar at an embar­rass­ing­ly low level.

So nat­u­ral­ly enough, I set about com­pil­ing my own list of the year’s best films. And do you know what, he was right, though not I sus­pect in the man­ner that he meant. 2016 was a dread­ful­ly dis­ap­point­ing year film wise.

Hero­ical­ly, the Guardian man­aged to find no few­er than 48 films to rec­om­mend as their films of the year here. Includ­ing: the com­ic book pair of damp squibs Cap­tain Amer­i­ca and Dead­pool, the Coen’s pedes­tri­an­ly con­ven­tion­al Hail Cae­sar, the lat­est unnec­es­sary film-by-num­bers from Taran­ti­no The Hate­ful Eight, Tom Ford’s there’s‑no-there-there Noc­tur­nal Ani­mals, reviewed ear­li­er here, and, yawn, Ghost­busters.

Love and Friendship.

Love and Friend­ship.

This being the Guardian they even man­aged to rec­om­mend a cou­ple of Irish films. The, whis­per it, hope­less­ly mud­dled Room – whose sto­ry is it, his or hers, and what do they want? If it’s to escape, then what’s the sec­ond hour about, and if that’s not what they want, then what’s the first hour about? And Sing Street, which would be fine in a TV list­ings for a Sun­day evening as a mar­gin­al­ly more live­ly alter­na­tive to The Antiques Road­show, but should nev­er have been allowed with­in a three hun­dred mile radius of an actu­al cinema.

And, inevitably, they warm­ly rec­om­mend­ed I, Daniel Blake, which is, frankly, lit­tle more than a Ken Loach film. I know I know, you’re right, that is harsh, but hon­est­ly, that’s real­ly all it is.

Son of Saul.

Son of Saul.

There were a hand­ful of mem­o­rable films. Whit Stillman’s charm­ing adap­ta­tion of a minor Jane Austen, Love and Friend­ship, Lás­zló Nemes’ har­row­ing Son of Saul, Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Ser­pent (reviewed ear­li­er here), and Mat­teo Garrone’s majes­tic Tale of Tales (reviewed ear­li­er here).

Tale of Tales.

Tale of Tales.

But if in ten years’ time you were watch­ing a screen some­where and you rec­og­nized a scene from one of the above, which one of them would make you stop what you were doing to think, I hope I have time to sit down and watch the rest of this? Tale of Tales, just about, so long as the screen was suf­fi­cient­ly grandiose to do it jus­tice. But there’s noth­ing there that would make your heart skip a beat at the thought of hav­ing the chance to see it again. What do I mean by that? Sun­flower.

Sun­flower was part of a last great hur­rah that the tru­ly great Ital­ian film mak­er Vit­to­rio De Sica enjoyed, but had the mis­for­tune to be the first of two films that he released in the same year, in 1970. And it end­ed up being very unfair­ly eclipsed by his sec­ond film, the exquis­ite and heart-break­ing The Gar­den of the Finzi-Con­ti­nis, which went on to win the Acad­e­my Award for best for­eign film that same year, which I reviewed ear­li­er here.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

The Gar­den of the Finzi-Continis.

Sun­flower is every bit as emo­tion­al­ly dev­as­tat­ing though in a some­what dif­fer­ent way. Sofia Loren and Mar­cel­lo Mas­troian­ni fall in love on the eve of the sec­ond World War and, despite their best efforts, he is even­tu­al­ly forced to do his bit and is dis­patched to the East­ern front. When he fails to return, Loren sets off for Rus­sia deter­mined to find out what has become of him.

Very much a com­pan­ion piece to Demy’s sub­lime The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg, like that film Sun­flower takes an appar­ent­ly mun­dane, every­day sto­ry, and gives it incred­i­ble emo­tion­al res­o­nance and depth by trans­form­ing it into an impos­si­bly bold and daz­zling­ly bril­liant melo­dra­ma. Almost as rav­ish­ing­ly colour­ful as Cher­bourg, though not actu­al­ly a musi­cal, it effec­tive­ly feels like one, such is the pow­er of Hen­ry Mancini’s dev­as­tat­ing score.

Mastroianni and Loren.

Mas­troian­ni and Loren.

I saw it a cou­ple of years ago on Sky Arts, but I notice that, in their efforts to make it a 24 hour chan­nel, in con­trast to, say, the likes of BBC4, they rotate a num­ber of their films and pro­grammes through­out the night and into the morn­ing. So you can still find it every now and then hid­den in their sched­ule. If you get the chance, watch it. And in ten years’ time, when you catch a glimpse of it on a screen some­where, you’ll have some­thing to look for­ward to.

See the unof­fi­cial trail­er to Sun­flower here:

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!