‘My Brilliant Friend’ Director Daniele Luchetti on Season 3

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Veteran Italian auteur Daniele Luchetti, whose most recent film “The Ties” opened the 2020 Venice Film Festival, is now shooting season 3 of HBO-RAI series “My Brilliant Friend,” taking the reins from helmer-showrunner Saverio Costanzo, who is taking a break.

The show’s hotly anticipated third season is based on the bestselling novel “My Brilliant Friend – Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the third book of the quadrilogy by Elena Ferrante published in the U.S. by Europa Editions. It’s produced by The Apartment and Wildside, both Fremantle companies, along with FremantleMedia Italia and Fandango Production, in collaboration with Rai Fiction and HBO Entertainment. The story and screenplays are by Ferrante, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci and Saverio Costanzo.

Luchetti spoke exclusively to Variety about the upcoming season’s cinematic references, the two protagonists’ journeys, and his personal connection to the material.

Saverio had told me that after referencing Neorealism in the first season and the Nouvelle Vague in the second one, the third would reference 1970s cinema, in particular New Hollywood.

Certainly, in terms of process. I’ve always been a film buff and am very taken by how John Cassavetes worked with actors. In tackling this season, even though I had very well written dialogues, I tried to put the main actors in a situation where they had more freedom — the type of freedom that is born from American cinema of the 1970s. We worked a lot on subtexts, on building character, on the character arcs. I even got special staff to train the actors, so that something unexpected could happen on set, which is what cinema in those years did: put the spectator in front of something unexpected.

Of course this is all happening within a predefined structure that is cast in stone, within a narrative that people have absorbed in the book and want to revisit [on the screen]. So seeking maximum freedom within this space that has already been very well built is turning out to be a very interesting challenge. And the process behind cinema of the 1960s and ’70s has helped me enormously.

Can you talk to me about the main character arcs?

The two protagonists have quite different journeys. Elena is a person whose demon is the search for her talent. She doesn’t know if she’s talented but she’s seeking her identity: ‘Am I a real writer?’ Elena’s character plays out within a bourgeois drama or comedy. She has the restlessness of a certain type of 1970s Italian cinema, reminiscent of Monica Vitti in those years, of characters who questioned themselves about a still uncertain feminine identity.

Whereas Lila is a character who is still fighting for survival. So the references for her are a type of 1970s Italian and also American cinema that I love — films made for an adult audience with a brash and aggressive tone when it comes to Lila, and a softer more bourgeois — and also introspective — tone when we are portraying Elena. She is meditative, which we do with voice-over, she has love affairs. Her dilemmas are internal ones

Lila instead is completely projected outwards. She is fighting for survival; fighting against being molested; fighting against low salaries; fighting for her material dignity. At times, these two characters collide and that’s when it’s 100% ‘Brilliant Friend’!

There was some speculation in the Italian press that the current actresses, Gaia Girace and Margherita Mazzucco, are too young to play Elena and Lila now that they’ve grown older in the story.

We chose to keep the same cast. First of all, it was important to stick with the same [physical] characters. But also [the actors have] grown. There is a visible maturity in their expressions, in their attitudes. We have made the most of this wonderful enrichment that Gaia and Margherita bring, and also other characters. It’s not a fallback solution; it gives more depth. We see them grow live on screen.

When and where did you start shooting and what’s the plan going forward?

We started shooting the first part of the season in November in Naples and Florence. We shot roughly 3 or 4 months. Then we decided to take a break, in part due to COVID-related problems but also to let the young women do their schooling. And also because we think there is a psychological break between the two parts of the season. We wanted  the actors to rest up and then give them a slightly different [acting] training, which I think will make a visible difference. In July we start again in Florence and then end up back in Naples.

Any idea when season 3 could launch?

I think we will end the shoot in September. The launch date has a lot to do with the editing process, so I really don’t know. Due to the way I am shooting, and directing the actors, there are lot of variables and options in terms of how we construct the final edit. I am currently working on editing the first half. I’ve been handed the keys to a Ferrari, I have to be careful to make sure we go fast but also take the best possible road.

What can you tell me about the visuals that characterize this season?

The visuals change in part due to the transforming scenery. We are shooting less on set compared with previous seasons; there is a clearer irruption of reality in this season. We are out in the open air; we are on the windblown Naples seafront with plenty of car traffic. The visual process was to open the doors and let the real world in. Obviously this real world is conditioned by costumes, by vintage cars. But my desire is to break a diaphragm between the audience and the characters and bring them closer to us.

I don’t make films with any kind of preconceived visuals. I try to make things happen in front of the camera. This brings me to a style that will be 100% ‘My Brilliant Friend,’ but with something imperceptible in it that signifies that time changes, people change and that the time period is different.

What is your personal connection to “My Brilliant Friend”?

My huge connection to these books and to the series is something mysterious that I understood only while shooting. These two characters are both my mother. They are my mother if she could have had a [college] education; and my mother if she had had Lila’s grit. Being born in a family with lots of women on my mother’s side brought me a wealth of so many things, including stories of how women are molested and how this happens in total indifference. Just bodies at men’s disposal. I’ve heard lots about this while I was growing up. This all brings something very instinctive. I continue to believe that the camera is more connected to your belly than to you eye. This series is connected to my belly and to the women in my family who lived this type of world directly on their skin.

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