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Well well well, what do we have here? Another one of Bertolucci's earlier
films? Yes and No.
This is one of Bernardo Bertolucci's earlier films (1979), but it is unlike
anything that he had done before or ever did again.
La Luna is something that is a gem of film-making history, even though it is virtually impossible to get on video (and it will most probably never be shown on Television again).
It tells the sad, depressing (yet beautiful) tale of a young boy's growth into adolescence , while experimenting with drugs and eventually (as they always do) ends up becoming addicted to Heroin.
His Mother(played ever so beautifully by Jill Clayburge), in an effort to try and 'wean him' off the drugs develops an incestuous relationship with her son.
Shocking as the description above may sound at first, please do not let it put you off seeing this fantastic film, as it is only a small slice of the cinematically glorious outing that this film is!
The photography portrayed in this film is the best that bertolucci has ever achieved (Yes, even the fantastic The Last Emperor and Little Buddah). When I say a film is utterly breath-taking (I am a hard person to please when it comes to films, just read my other reviews here!), then you know you're in for a treat and a half.
But, what is the point of this review unless people have a chance to witness the sheer beauty for themselves?
I saw this film when I was 15 years of age. I am now 26 and have never forgotten a single FRAME of La Luna. Every word, every scene sticks in my mind like a vivid memory, and I in some ways feel that I was in the film somehow and was able to feel all the anger, all the pain and all the love that surrounded it.
For a film to make this much of an impression on someone and for that impression to still be fresh in the person's mind eleven years later, you also know this film has to be a good thing.
You people, I am very sad to say, will probably never have the chance to see this film (as it has not been released on Video - I have tried nearly every day for eleven years to find a copy!!!).
But let what I have said stick in your mind, just as La Luna hopefully will some day...
A childhood memory, looking into his mother's face with a full moon creating a halo around her. Beautiful and so Italian. The mother in this case is Jill Claybourgh, she was raiding the crest of the wave then and it's very telling that she would choose to play a part that required, not just appearing completely nude but making love to her teen age junkie of a son. She is awkwardly terrific. Her face is a voyage in itself. I would have use quite a different wardrobe for her character as well as make up and hair style but maybe that was just a sign of its day. Jill laughs saying "I am crazy" and that would explain some of the dangerous nuttiness she indulges in here. Her son, played beautifully, by unknown - before and since - Matthew Barry. A Bertoluccian teen sex object if I ever so one. The film has oodles of moments to cherish. Tomas Milian plays the boy's real father. They've never met, His father still lives in a rather intense relationship with his mother, the stunning Alida Valli. In small, very small parts, Carlo Verdone, Roberto Benigni and Renato Salvatori. A film to enjoy with your heart, your gut and your libido but not your brain. Just live your brain for other Bertolucci jewels.
I found La Luna to be a wonderful, haunting film. Bertolucci has an artists eye for locale but it is the charged drama between mother and son and the strong, committed performances of the two lead players that give the movie its power.Barry's performance was transcendent and, had I seen the film in 1979, I would have been sure he was on the cusp of a brilliant career. Was La Luna an albatross or did he become too self-conscious as he grew up? I gather the film bombed. The New York Times list of 1000 best films does not include it-an inexplicable oversight. Perhaps its graphic portrayal of a taboo subject made it a hot potato. Or perhaps it was that some of the scenes are a high-wire act: the scene where Joe licks the dirt off his mothers face is at once touching and erotic but in a different frame of mind one could find it ludicrous and might well have been greeted with hoots at a theater showing. No matter. I'm glad I found it.
I found this a stunning and emotionally complex film. If you enjoy films
mainly concerning characterisation in which the emotional complexities of
human beings are not served up in easily chewable chunks, then you will
probably enjoy this film. Even given the above, you might still be
disconcerted by the rapid plot changes and narrative swings. Two points are
valid here: Bertolucci directed this during the time when he was heavily
into psychoanalysis ; and secondly, someone quite lucidly stated that
Bertolucci's Spider's Stratagem was a movie with a linear narrative shown in
a non-linear manner while La Luna was a movie with a non-linear narrative
shown in a linear manner. Viewed in this manner, one can enjoy the film with
its many beautifully crafted scenes.
I love how the film presents the craziness of life with its contradictions, multiple meanings and emotional messiness. The irrational and problematic behavior of the characters may make the film harder to follow but seems to me a truer view of life than the explicit logical road map given to audiences in most films.
The film does date itself clearly in the 1970s, so you have to accept some scary clothing moments such as Jill Clayburgh walking out of a building into a bright Rome day wearing sunglasses so big only a comedian would wear them these days. But on the whole this does not distract from the overall effect.
Finally, opera lovers will enjoy the set piece opera scenes which are very ingeniously shot and beautifully staged.
One of my favorites -- a "perfect" movie by MY standards:
a good story, great direction, an attractive and effective cast, and
stunning locales and photography. An elegant production -- not one lame or
New York-based American diva Jill Clayburgh, a true celebrity, is
married to (it could happen!) Fred Gwynne. Her only child, a teenage son
(Matthew Barry) accompanies his parents to a plush rental home in Italy,
where Clayburgh's opera career has taken her, and where his biological
father lives. Though hobnobbing and partying with the rich and famous in
Rome, Clayburgh nonetheless is worried about her son because of his
"distance" and solitude, -- he doesn't take to his step-father -- his
general teenage angst, and his pending reunion with his "real" father.
Clayburgh's motherly instincts kick in and she soon learns her loving son
has indeed fallen in with the "wrong crowd." Mamma mia! He is on his way
to being a junkie and Clayburgh takes rather "extreme" steps to get the
boy's mind off heroin and other cheap thrills. Not for the kiddies, but
entertaining for grown-ups who like something different and have open
The adult theme is rather tame, relatively speaking, and is handled well and not explicitly, especially compared with the moronic garbage being spewed out in American movies and TV today. Certainly not in the nearly-x-rated category of Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris," for example. What I want to know is whatever happened to the hauntingly handsome then-youngster Matthew Barry? He could have had a promising film career, based on his good looks and his performance in Luna. I saw this on Cinemax in the early, good old days (early 1980s) when it aired great movies, especially foreign films. I have tried, but been unable to, buy it, sad to say.)
Not many discuss Bertolucci's La Luna as one of his most challenging
films but I beg to differ. In 1979 I presume the film's campy allure
had not been registered but today it's all to be seen; call it kitsch
or ironic, but la Luna encapsulates two worlds Bertolucci tried to
negotiate in most of his films - the world of appearances and surfaces
against the inner world of the protagonist. La Luna plays both against
each other as a masquerade, because what we think we are getting is not
what we really are seeing. Bertolucci presents the first part as a
post-Freudian fable in late 70s Rome where an Opera singer and her son
indulge in an Oedipal relationship. Bertolucci then introduces the lost
but real father to the scene as if to eradicate Freudian psychoanalysis
as a spurious retelling of Greek myth. It seems the son only wants his
father's recognition and love, while the mother is marginalized. It's a
very masculine thesis for Bertolucci, one that reinforces the illusory
fundamentals of Patriarchy, while negating the matriarchal as a mere
bypass to the final journey(father's love).
Jill Clayburgh's acting is off-key most of the time but this unwittingly invests the film with its latter-day camp quality, while Matthew Barry looks dazed and confused throughout the entire film. Rome is undoubtedly the best part of the film as well as the sumptuous visuals that capture its sun-drenched beauty and decaying but grand monuments.
Not quite sure how I exactly feel about this film. As with a lot of Bertolucci movies, there are plenty of cringe-inducing moments, from the overblown Verdi opera scenes to Jill Clayburgh campily dancing around to rock music screeching "Oh yeah! In the 60s we believed in THINGS!!!" Taken as a whole, the movie is very uneven, psychologically muddled, heavy-handed and overlong. But there are haunting stretches in this movie which continue to resonate with me -- an opening passage where Clayburgh is biking in the night with her baby, and even smaller moments like the strangely beautiful shot of the teenagers skateboarding down the streets of Rome, or the kid dancing to "Night Fever". I would love to rewatch it and hope it get released on DVD. It's a fascinating entry in Bertolucci's work. A mess, but I think it's stayed with me more strongly than 1900 or Tango, though I think The Conformist still reigns supreme.
In a way I feel sorry for Bernardo Bertolucci's La Luna, though maybe
more for Bertolucci than the film itself. Having come off of the
monumental undertaking of 1900, he probably wanted to still keep the
challenging creative juices flowing, and in doing so concocted an idea
surrounding a mother and son who lose their closest significant other
and go to Rome, only to get dragged into their own created mire of drug
addiction, self-absorption, and incest. This, of course, sounds quite
meaty dramatically, at least when first heard. Executed on film it's
another story, and the final script is probably what ends up making the
film one of the weakest- if not THE weakest- I've seen from the
This still means that there's good chunks in there, even really wonderfully sordid moments of incredible familial dysfunction between mother and son. But unlike, for example, Malle's Murmur of the Heart, there's a lack of cohesion to any sense of firm psychology with either mother or son, and while things are fascinating and potent in dramatic spontaneity in the first two-thirds, there's a moment when things start to go downhill. By the end, I wondered if Bertolucci was about to break into the end of 8 1/2.
We're given a character study, that's for sure, and quite the two f***ed up characters. The mother is Caterina (Jill Clayburgh, a quasi Diane Keaton look-alike, however only sometimes talented and convincing), who's husband (in a great bit part by Fred Gwynne) dies suddenly while driving a car. Though both mother and son are devastated, they go to Rome so she can sing in the opera there. The son, meanwhile, is at that absolutely abhorrent age in anyone's life- 15- and at first is into some nothingness abound with a girl, and soon enough into a dead-end mind-set of heroin.
This alarms her mother, to be sure, and perhaps the most perfect scene of the film (whether this means it will shock or unsettle is another matter), is when the son plays piano for a moment when the mother tries to get her son to tell her about his drug problem, peers for a moment under his shirt, and then he erupts at her with physical violence. Finally it ends, and she goes to one side of the room with a look like 'what the hell just happened', and he goes off to do more junk. There's even the brilliant little insinuation, which is all that's needed, of a notion of desire when she's trying to peer at his arm.
Now, if there had been more scenes like this, consistently, it might even be one of Bertolucci's masterpieces. But, however, this is not to be. Towards the middle things even become shaky, as the same randomness of mind and spirit with the mother and son, this chronic sense of equal parts of nihilism, despair, gallows humor, and the oddness of bourgeois discontent with dark pasts, becomes something that Bertolucci isn't fully able to grab a hold of. And unlike in Last Tango in Paris, there's no Marlon Brando here to make things incredibly appealing with totally believable dread in the face of loss. Matthew Barry is decent in the part of Joe, the son, but also teeters on being annoying (which maybe is part of the desired effect, but still).
And the sense of how their push and pull relationship with his drug addiction as the center isn't fully resolved with the mother. Clayburgh's Caterina just isn't sympathetic, or empathetic, enough to get into her mind-set, because despite being interesting in her part of a somewhat un-fit parent who loves her son perhaps in the worst possible ways, and that both are crazy, it isn't enough to sustain what happens at the 2/3 mark...which is when Bertolucci and his writers pull out the "son, I'll take you back to your roots, and find your *real* father who made you a bastard" card, and everything goes downhill from there.
It's a mark of downhill quality that has almost been building, and it's troubling especially since a lot DOES work in morbid detail of the characters, and how operatic intonations somehow become involved in their plights. But Bertolucci tends to put the hammer down in both technique and substance, and only in the former does it really work. His and Vittorio Storaro's eye in this film is just as sharp and succulent as in their other collaborations, with the camera gliding seamlessly in some crucial ways, providing movement to just the slightest moments of emotional upheaval. Yet even in the least effective spot of the film, there are the moments, like when Joe plays drums with his fork and spoon at the table. Or the very awkward silence after the mother's sexual advances go very unheeded. In the end La Luna becomes more worthwhile to see for what doesn't work as opposed to what does.
While some might come away from it feeling that it's an uncompromising work of genius, I wouldn't, though it's not a failure either. It's a curious work of bravura testing of the limits of what people- in this case Americans- can be in such a European environment, and that the psychologies therein are as wobbly as a bad table leg.
It's obvious watching Luna that Bernard Bertolucci has a visual gift. The movie's opening scenes are lyrical and arresting. Unfortunately, what follows is a ridiculous story about an opera singer (Clayburg) who tries to hold onto her 14-year-old junkie son by trying to have sex with him. Despite touches of humor and candor (like the scene where Clayburg visits her son's Muslim dealer), the overall effect made me sad for the actors, who took a great risk, I think, in agreeing to appear in this. By the time I reached the sappy, "magical" operatic finale, my finger was firmly pressed against the Fast-Forward button.
I recall that both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel HATED this film, which they characterized as senseless meanderings in an incomprehensively large Italian villa by two characters about whom we care nothing. I chose to see it anyway, and absolutely loved it. Perhaps only a woman can relate to just how far a mother will go to redirect her son from a deadly path.
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