[Film Review] Luna (1979)

Luna poster.jpg

English Title: Luna
Original Title: La luna
Year: 1979
Country: Italy, USA
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Drama
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Writers:
Bernardo Bertolucci
Giuseppe Bertolucci
Clare Peploe
Franco Arcalli
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Cast:
Jill Clayburgh
Matthew Barry
Tomas Milian
Veronica Lazar
Fred Gwynne
Renato Salvatori
Alida Valli
Elisabetta Campeti
Peter Eyre
Franco Citti
Mustapha Barat
Roberto Benigni
Carlo Verdone
Rodolfo Lodi
Rating: 7.3/10

Luna 1979.jpg

Parsing his own obsession of Oedipus complex and pushing the envelope of the intimacy between a mother and her teenage son, Italian virtuoso provocateur Bernardo Bertolucci’s LUNA (Italian: moon) is, for what it is worth, immediately associated with its sensationally incestuous ballyhoo, but if one can puts that aside, what is outlined is a telling, instructive even triumphant character study of two unlikable persons, one bratty, spoiled adolescent and a mutable, neurotic prima donna.

The in-demand American soprano Caterina Silveri (Clayburgh) goes up sticks from New York to Rome after the sudden death of her husband Douglas (Gwynne), together with their teenage son, Joe (newcomer Barry, trading on his effeminate physique and peeved priggishness), soon this arbitrary change takes a heavy toll on the maladjusted Joe, alienated in a foreign land by the language barrier and his mother’s unthinking negligence (who is preoccupied with her stage work and cannot remember his birthday). It is on his 15-year-old birthday, to her utter consternation, Caterina finds out that Joe is a habitual heroin user, and as clueless as she is, what extreme measures will she take to save her son from falling into the abyss? Bertolucci takes his time in slowly unraveling the complex mother-son dyad, on the strength of a barnstorming Jill Clayburgh baring all of Caterina’s bafflement, guilt and anguish, which all instigates her desperate over-compensation that soon runs afoul of the moral parameter.

In Bertolucci’s mind, all the pair’s plight can be amounted to the missing male influence, a father figure for the impressionable, fish-out-of-water Joe, who seeks solace in heroin to numb his existential woe, so finally Caterina spills the beans of Joe’s biological father whom he has never met, and that missing link will be timely recouped but not without a sounding slapping as an answer to audience’s emotional request and finally augmented by Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, this is a hard-won battle for two wayward souls and for once, Bertolucci relents from a somber outcome.

Knowingly touching on many a prickly subject, Pasolini survivor Franco Citti jumps on the opportunity of a pederastic hug abetted by Bee Gees’ NIGHT FEVER, a tangible sapphic vibe takes shape between Caterina and her best friend Marina (Lazar), a Communist smooth-talker in the form of a thickset Renato Salvatori and the revelation of that consanguineous perversion residing within Joe’s real father Giuseppe (a cordially intense Milian, totally upstages his co-stars during his later entrance), LUNA never shies away from its provocative design but only packs a punch in moderation, anyhow, for a subject radically too close to home, Bertolucci is a sly fox to leave a taste of ambiguity to save the day.

referential entries: Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972, 7.5/10), THE CONFORMIST (1970, 8.8/10), THE GRIM REAPER (1962, 7.2/10); Nagisa Ôshima’s MAX, MON AMOUR (1986, 6.9/10).

 

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