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‘My Brilliant Friend’ Review: Brutality Comes to Naples in Episode 6, Joined by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Death and destruction of people and relationships plague this week's chapter, which finds series creator Saverio Costanzo directing again and in fine form.

My Brilliant Friend

“My Brilliant Friend”

Eduardo Castaldo/HBO

In “Rage,” the sun has set on the short but potent romance of Nino Sarratore (Francesco Serpico) and Lila Caracci (Gaia Girace). Director Saverio Costanzo is back after handing the camera to Alice Rohrwacher for the past two weeks spent in Ischia, but the transition is seamless. Costanzo appropriately sets the last moments of happiness for Nino and Lila all a swoon in the rain, set to the sad swell of Gino Paoli’s love song “Vivere Ancora.” It’s an achingly romantic sequence, especially a time where those of us single in quarantine assume we’ll never touch another human being or be touched again or experience love’s sweet, elusive kiss! But their life on the lam in a hovel somewhere in Naples hits a dead end once Nino grows resentful of Lila’s intellect. Nino is a Sarratore, through and through, so he was never not going to feel eventually threatened by Lila’s blooming mind.

The episode is called “Rage” because, well, there’s a lot of pain here, from Lenu’s stunned revelation that Lila has been secretly seeing Nino since that summer in Ischia, to two especially brutal sequences involving physical violence. When Lenu discovers Nino hidden by Lila in the stockroom of the Solara shoe store — and what the hell is Lila doing working there anyway? — the camera becomes just as queasy she does, going all blurry and seeming to give out once Lila tells Lenu she’s pregnant with Nino’s baby.

Lenu has no well wishes for the happy couple, instead driving a stake of jealousy between them by announcing, perhaps a bit prematurely, that she’s headed off to university in Pisa. Immediately, Costanzo cuts to Nino’s hand pulling away from Lila’s, and you suddenly know it’s all over, and exactly where this is all headed. Here’s another fine example of this show’s shrewd ability to telegraph narrative events visually and emotionally through choreography and editing. Then there’s the physical change in Lila, donning a more contemporary kind of pageboy haircut to suggest a changed woman. (Not the greatest wig in the world for Gaia Girace, but it’s certainly better than the literal mop atop Rose Byrne’s head in FX’s “Mrs. America.”)

One such aforementioned scene of violence occurs when Lila, who appears to have superficially rekindled with Stefano (Giovanni Amura) since returning from Ischia, tells him she’s leaving for good over spaghetti. A furious Stefano thwacks the mess out of her, sending her flying to the floor, but then back to her feet as she threatens him with a kitchen knife. And soon after, she’s gone. One of this week’s most beautiful shots segues from Lila’s departure, to Stefano’s rock-bottom despair, as day fades into night in a twilit corridor.

Eduardo Castaldo/HBO

Down at least one staff member with Lila gone, but more profoundly down a business partner with Stefano a complete mess who suddenly has the entire city of Naples gathered around him, Michele Solara takes action to locate Lila. Unwisely, he picks Antonio, back from the army after a nervous breakdown, to track down the prodigal Caracci. But Antonio is showing signs of what’s probably schizophrenia, rambling to Lenu earlier in the episode about puppets living inside his hand.

Antonio indeed tracks down the rundown corner of Naples Lila and Nino have turned into their pied-à-terre, but just at the moment when Nino has walked out on Lila into a rainy night. Antonio, under orders by Solara but mostly mentally insane at this point and also jealous that Lenu ever desired him, beats the crap out of Nino in a horrifying encounter that will surely scare the Sarratore boy off from ever talking to Lila again.

Back in Naples, Antonio delivers the news of Lila’s whereabouts not to the Solaras, but to resident cutie-pie Enzo Scanno (Giovanni Buselli), a friend of her brother’s who’s loved her so long ever since throwing rocks at her as a little kid. Enzo shows up to Lila’s, volunteering to take care of her, and while they’re ill-matched romantically, Enzo has a square head on his shoulders compared to the rest of the men who’ve come back to Naples from the army. Even if he is a bit basic.

The city, by the way, is a mess, even in the episode’s prologue, as the Neapolitans gather to exorcise their demons and literally burn their unwanted personal effects on a pyre in the town square. What’s meant to be a joyous spiritual cleansing turns unholy and apocalyptic as Giuseppina Peluso is found hanging from the bathroom ceiling, never well after the death in prison of her husband, a communist wrongly arrested for murder.

My Brilliant Friend

“My Brilliant Friend”

Eduardo Castaldo/HBO

“Rage” has at least two scenes that strike me as personal favorites of this season of “My Brilliant Friend.” Immacolata Greco’s (Anna Rita Vitolo) fury at her daughter’s decision to shirk her mother’s wishes and jettison life in Naples to study in Pisa takes a moving turn when Immacolata decides to give Lenu the money for the entrance exam. “If you’re going, it’s to get in,” she tells Lenu as she pulls a bill out of her brassiere and slams it on the dining table. Lenu is unsure she can pass the test despite encouragement from her teachers. At the episode’s opening, she passes an oral literature exam with flying colors, but comes across as hard and sullen after the fraught vacation in Ischia. “Beauty is just face powder applied over the horror,” she tells the panel.

Finally, a neat easter egg for cinephiles is a cameo from the character of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the openly queer communist filmmaker of “Salo,” “Teorema,” “Mamma Roma,” and “Accattone.” Lila and Nino have gone to a screening and seminar to hear him speak, only for the moment to be utterly disrupted by a pack of raucous fascists calling Pasolini a “pederast,” which of course gets Lila all riled up and outspoken, and causes Nino to dump her. The subtle kinks and keen eye for quiet moments of beauty and stillness in “My Brilliant Friend” from director/creator Saverio Costanzo owe a certain debt to Pasolini, so it’s nice to see the iconic filmmaker get an appearance here, as much of this series is an homage to Pasolini and his peers.

Grade: A-

“My Brilliant Friend” premieres Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

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