Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Dear Zachary’ and ‘My Brilliant Friend’

‘DEAR ZACHARY’ (AMAZON, FANDOR, HOOPLA, SUNDANCE)

Given the current frenzy for true crime, especially on streaming television and in podcasts, a documentary like “Dear Zachary” has a very specific, and very important, role to play — in reclaiming these stories for the families and friends of the crime victim. In that way, while it states the case of the crime it portrays, it also moves away from the dark fetishism of most true-crime works and becomes a celebration of the victim.

Made by director Kurt Kuenne, “Dear Zachary” is an open, cinematic letter to the son of Andrew Bagby, Kuenne’s best friend, who was murdered in 2001 by a woman he had been dating. The idea is that Kuenne wants to offer Zachary insight to the father he never knew because his mother killed the man.

But something crucial happens as Kuenne begins to make the film. After discovering that the murderer is pregnant by their son, Bagby’s parents move up to Newfoundland, where the murderer lives. Their mission is to fight the Canadian justice system for custody of Zachary, the child, as his mother is headed to trial.

This tense, infuriating aftermath takes up the bulk of the film and becomes a raw and angry work with a tense immersive quality that draws you into the emotional centers of Bagby’s parents that is more intense than any documentary I’ve seen. Their candid interviews about their experience drive their rage and their sorrow right into you. It’s a hard movie to watch at times, but it’s a valuable one to have seen, and it feels like the very least those of us on the viewing side owe not just the Bagbys, but the loved ones of any murder victim.

brilliant friend

‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’ (AMAZON, HBO, VUDU)

This Italian series is adapted from the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante that have become national treasures there, embraced with such protectiveness by readers that any screen adaptation was going to have a lot riding on it because of expectations.

Following the lives of two girls in a neighborhood in Napoli, Ferrante weaves a narrative of their experience growing up within an emotionally oppressive society defined by familial hierarchies and combative relationships, which especially works to grind women into an expected role and keep them captive of the neighborhood.

Ferrante has a gift for presenting the tapestry of the neighborhood and offering a frank glimpse at Italian culture, warts and all, and in the show’s writing, an amazing knack for depicting the relationships between young girls — supportive and combative at the same time, needy and stand-offish, and built around attaching both meaning and resentment to the other.

The first two episodes featuring the main characters Lila and Lenu as children coming to terms with the criminal aspect of the neighborhood are immaculate, as are both actresses, Ludovica Nasti and Elisa Del Genio. The impact of the drama is challenged a bit in the following episodes by the limited acting ability of the two actresses who take on the characters as teenagers, Gaia Girace and Margherita Mazzucco, but the complications around them take on a life of their own despite them. The vigorous supporting cast, amazing and immersive period detail, and a fascinating insight to the gender roles in Italian culture, and so much more, provide more than enough frenzy on the screen to keep you compelled.


Originally published at https://www.berkshireeagle.com on March 1, 2019.

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