Lila and Lenu have grown into young women desperately seeking freedom from violent male coercion in the second season of HBO's "My Brilliant Friend."
The beautiful Lila, trapped in a marriage to a brutal husband she despises, and the earnest Lenu deepen their intimate connection first fused in childhood, as recounted in Season 1 of the gorgeous production.
Titled "The Story of a New Name," the new season is based upon the second volume of Elena Ferrante's novels about Lila and Lenu's shifting relationship from childhood to adulthood in post-World War II Naples.
As in Season 1, the contrast between the breathtaking Italian landscape and the women's brutalized lives is nearly unbearable. The show gives a complete portrait of Naples' traditional culture beset by rapacious capitalism, which brings devastating social change along with unequal wealth.
The highly intelligent, lovely Lila is forced to conform to Naples' male-dominated society, while Lenu is given the chance to escape through higher education. Despite her opportunity for independence, Lenu is drawn back to traditional female roles.
The more gifted Lila, her aspirations for beauty and intellectual pursuits glowing on her face, pushes Lenu toward freeing herself.
Gaia Girace plays Lila with stunning glamour, simmering anger and defiant spirit. As she succumbs to her husband's brutality, intensified by a rape during her honeymoon at a luxury hotel, her tragedy grows more heartbreaking.
As the shy, reflective Lenu, who eventually becomes a writer, Margherita Mazzucco brings adolescent awkwardness and budding beauty.
Girace and Mazzucco are supported by an outstanding cast. Against the minimalistic subtitles, the characters' Italian dialogue is like music. The characters' facial expressions reveal meaning beyond translation. The cinematography reaches the heights of Italian art films.
"My Brilliant Friend's" second season secures the series' place among HBO classics.