My Brilliant Friend Episode 3

The episode opens with Lenu discovering blood in the toilet. She thinks she is going to die, and she is right. Another girl explains it’s her period. She can get pregnant. Lila has moved away from Lenu. There are girls who work in shops and girls who go to school. The romance of childhood is the mystery of life. How does it work? How will I fit into it? By now the girls are thirteen or so, and the mystery is solved. Life is a bird lying on a dusty road, knocked out of the sky by a stone thrown in spite. Lenu doesn’t know how to study without Lila. She doesn’t know how to live without the romance of her relationship to this girl, who understands the grammar of existence. You have to start with the verb, she will ultimately explain to Lenu, showing her how to master Latin, as they sit side by side on the curb in the dark, outside their apartments. It is the most tender and beautiful scene imaginable, the girls finding their way back to each other. Lenu has discovered that Lila is secretly studying. She is reading her way through the library that has opened in the town, signing the names of other members of her family to the cards, in order to borrow more books. What do you do when you have found and lost the most interesting human being you have ever encountered? The one who finds cracks of light where other people, including you, see only a cinderblock wall? You do everything in your power to win her back and in the absence you measure the space inside you she inhabits and act as you think she would. Lenu’s face has broken out in acne. She thinks she is ugly and that Lila is beautiful. Lila gives off a sexual power with the force she shows and the force she hides. She’s a bit scary to everyone, and she uses it to stay separate and conduct her secret life. Lenu’s breasts are developing, and boys are eyeing her. Two confront her in a toilet and one offers her ten lire to show him her breasts. She holds out her hand and takes the money, curling her fingers around the coin. You can’t tell what she’s thinking when she lifts her sweater. She has the blank face of a sex worker, waiting for the moment to pass into another moment when she will spend the money on a pastry. She is testing what her body can give her and how she can parcel it out. In a voiceover, the adult Lenu believes she was channeling Lila in that moment. We think she is also testing herself in the realm of boys and what they want. One of the genius aspects of the show is the way it forces male viewers to identify with the female characters. There is no other place to go. In the entire episode, only an elderly male librarian is kind or decent to Lenu. When her grades are failing, her father loses patience with her. Other boys and men form a backdrop of large and small aggressions to each other and to girls. The rich boys drive around in a car and compel a poorer girl from the town to get in. She doesn’t want to. Everyone watches and lets it happen. Lila is enraged and calls it an “abduction.” Later, when these same boys will harass Lenu and one grabs her arm, breaking her bracelet, Lila will hold a knife at his throat and threaten to stab him if he ever touches her again. We can see the boy is turned on by Lila’s lack of fear. Fear is the medium the girls exist in. Also anyone who is poor and has been targeted for abuse. There is only one path out of this world for Lenu, and it is by following the crumbs laid down by Lila, who may not, herself, get out. It is through linking arms with women who want you to fly away. Once again Lenu’s grade school teacher intervenes with her parents and convinces them to allow her to go to high school. In its brilliant specificity, the story of Lila and Lenu is the story of every female life still being lived.

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