My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend Video

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Watch our illustrated video of the characters from the extraordinary first novel in the Neapolitan quartet series, My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.

Explore visually the intense friendship between two friends in post-war Naples, Italy. Journey with them through the ups and downs of their caring and often contentious relationship, as they experience first loves and major disappointments in this illustrated video adapted from the novel, My Brilliant Friend.

Video Transcript:

My Brilliant Friend takes place in Naples, Italy, in the 1950’s and is the first of a series of four novels called The Neopolitan Quartet, written by the Italian author, Elena Ferrante.

All four tell the story of a long and complicated friendship between two women.

The novel can be classified as both a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age novel) and kunstlerroman (a development-of-the-artist novel). It both describes Elena Greco’s journey into adulthood and establishes her identity as a writer. Additionally, the book contains strong feminist elements as it explores the ways in which Elena and her friend Lila Cerullo's experiences are shaped by their gender.

As the novel opens, Elena learns that her longtime friend Lila has vanished without a trace. This strange turn of events prompts Elena to write the history of her friendship with Lila, beginning with their childhood in Naples, Italy, in the 1950s.

Elena and Lila meet in grade school. They live near each other in a rough and tumble, working-class neighborhood where violent feuds are common. The lives of many families intersect through shared stories and secrets. Lila is precocious, intelligent, and courageous, and attracts the attention of the more mild-mannered Elena.

For example, when the girls are around eight years old, Lila throws Elena's doll into Don Achille's cellar. Don Achille is a feared man in the neighborhood. Elena responds by throwing Lila's doll in as well. The two girls enter the cellar, but cannot retrieve them. Lila eventually persuades Elena to go to Don Achille's apartment and ask for the dolls back, convinced that he has taken them. Elena finds this prospect terrifying, but follows Lila, exemplifying the reluctant trust she has for her friend. Lila fearlessly accuses Don Achille of having stolen the dolls, and he gives the two girls money to buy new ones.

Elena is profoundly shaped by the events the girls witness growing up in their neighborhood. They observe the affair between Donato Sarratore and the mentally unstable widow Melina Cappuccio, for example, and the murder of Don Achille Carracci.

The girls’ teachers recognize their intellectual talents early on. At the end of the fifth grade, the teachers recommend that both girls take the exam that would qualify them to continue their studies. Elena's parents are uncertain, but reluctantly agree to pay for the private lessons that will help Elena prepare for the exam.

Lila's parents, however, refuse, despite the objections of Lila’s brother Rino. Lila is sent instead to complete some courses targeted to a more technical education.

As Elena continues her studies in middle school, the girls’ friendship changes. Lila becomes more reserved and cultivates a close friendship with Carmela, another neighborhood girl. Elena struggles both with the transition to middle school and the experience of puberty.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood revitalizes and local businesses thrive. The Solara family, especially, prospers, as they expand their bar into a pastry shop and do very good business. The two sons of the Solara family, Marcello and Michele, attract a lot of attention in the neighborhood due to their good looks, wealth, and arrogance.

Lila, meanwhile, observes these changes and makes a plan of her own. Her father owns a shoe repair shop, but Lila dreams that the family will one day design, manufacture, and sell their own shoes. Secretly, she and her brother Rino begin to design and make a sample pair of men's dress shoes.

Lila and Elena remain close, although their friendship is marked by ambivalence. They are competitive with one another. Elena is very committed to her studies and typically performs well academically, but she fears she will never possess Lila’s sharp mind and charisma.

Lila maintains her own intellectual accomplishments and is increasingly attractive to men of all ages, both in and beyond the neighborhood.

On New Year's Eve 1958, when the girls are fourteen years old, they attend a party at the home of Stefano Carracci. Stefano is the son of Don Carracci, who was murdered years before. The event marks a shift in Carraci’s social acceptance as he invites many families, including the children of the man accused of the murder.

The party is initially pleasant but is disrupted by a firework competition. The Solara brothers become aggressive and the event escalates into gunfire. As Elena will find out later, during the party Lila also experiences a strange trance-like state in which she loses her sense of perspective and time.

A few days later, during the traditional gift-giving holiday, Rino, Lila’s brother, presents the shoes that he and Lila have been working on, to their father. Rino has not asked for Lila’s permission. Their father is very angry.

After the quarrel, Lila appears to lose all interest in her plans for the future and becomes focused only on domestic life.

A few months later, the Solara brothers intervene in a fight between Rino and Pasquale and some young men from a wealthier neighborhood.

Afterwards, Marcello Solara begins visiting the shoe store regularly, spending time with Rino. In the past, Lila has rejected Marcello’s romantic advances, so she is understandably suspicious of this behavior.

Still, Marcello has won the approval of her father and mother. When Marcello expresses support and interest in the shoe design project, they decide to see if this business can succeed. Marcello also openly expresses his desire to marry Lila, and her parents urge her to consider this offer.

Meanwhile, after completing a challenging academic year, one of Elena's teachers arranges for her to spend some time at the seaside. Elena is thrilled by the independence and peace she finds there, and her experience becomes even more interesting when she is joined by other guests: the Sarratore family.

Their teenage son Nino, who attends the same school as Elena, has long been the object of her romantic interest and the two draw closer as they spend time together over the summer months.

Nino, however, returns to Naples in mid-August and Elena continues to spend time with his family, including his father. A few weeks later, on her fifteenth birthday, Elena receives word from Lila that Lila is feeling increasingly threatened by Marcello and pressure from her family.

That night, after Elena has gone to bed, Donato Sarratore, Nino's father, approaches her, kissing and fondling her. He suggests that the two of them sneak off together the following day.

Confused, Elena hurries back to Naples the next morning. Lila is very relieved to see her.

Lila is also being courted by Stefano Carraci. In early autumn, Stefano proposes marriage and Lila accepts, telling Marcello that she has no intention of marrying him. Lila now enjoys wealth, privilege, and a new social status as Stefano's fiancée.

At times Elena feels alienated and jealous, but she also senses that Lila needs her support.

Her own life seems to be on an upwards trajectory. She enjoys a pleasurable relationship with yet another young man Antonio, and continues achieving in school while pursuing her ambitions to become a published author.

Lila is married in March of the following year, at age sixteen and a half. At the wedding, neighborhood tensions and conflicts surface. Elena is filled with resentment and loathing as she observes the petty and close-minded world around her. Nino is still not responsive to her hopes, and most damningly still, the publication of her article fails. This was meant to distinguish her and put her on the path to someday being a well-known writer and intellectual, and as the novel ends, it seems that she is doomed to be trapped in the same oppressive world forever.

Lila herself seems uncertain and even frightened before and during her wedding. Most significantly, at the reception, Lila realizes that Marcello Solara is wearing the first pair of shoes she had designed and made, which had initially been purchased by Stefano. The day that was meant to symbolize her escape from Marcello Solara ends with her realizing he is still exerting control over her, her family, and now her new husband.

The novel ends on these notes of high dramatic tension, to be continued by the next novels in the quartet: The Story of a New Name: Neapolitan Novels, Book Two; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Neapolitan Novels, Book Three; and The Story of the Lost Child: Neapolitan Novels, Book Four. The mysterious author, who adopted the pseudonym Elena Ferrante, has gone out of her way to keep her identity a secret, believing that novels should speak for themselves. Ironically, this choice has made her fans all the more interested in knowing who she is.