Just a reminder that “My Brilliant Friend,” the series based on the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, is back for a second season on HBO. The episodes premiere Mondays at 10 p.m., after “The Plot Against America.” Called “My Brilliant Friend: The Story of a New Name,” the season has already left me deeply impressed after two episodes. This is a gorgeously filmed Italian production that turns the long friendship between two women, Lila and Elena, into an epic story filled with tragedy, redemption, humor, and rich period detail. If you haven’t seen the first season, give it a try. It’s transporting, too.
Lila (Gaia Girace) is now married to Stefano, but after he betrayed her at the end of last season, she is ice cold to him. She pays for her attitude with rape and abuse, and, while she now lives in a fancy apartment and wears stylish clothes, she is miserable and numb. Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) still fancies her intellectual classmate, Nino, but she is the object of the simpler Antonio’s persistent affections and afraid to turn him away lest she be left with no one. She has become more politically astute, but emotionally, she’s pretty lost.
The dramas that play out range from the brutal to the more purely psychological, and all of them are compelling, not least of all thanks to the lead actresses’ stunning performances. The world of Lila and Elenu is permeated by sexism, and each of them sees the other as a possible escape from it — until competition and envy enter the picture. The visuals make the series look and feel like an arthouse movie — not just the meticulously re-created streets and apartments and the costuming but the inventive camera work, which at times relies effectively on unusual framing and reflected imagery. It’s beautifully done from top to bottom.
Oh, and please don’t be afraid of the subtitles. They won’t hurt you.