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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...
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.)
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.
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.
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.
I first saw the film over twenty years ago when it showed on a local TV channel late at night. It was my first introduction to Bertolucci, but it convinced me immediately of his powers! The storyline is simple, yet it is complex (let's call it simply complex for arguments sake!). It involved the character of an opera singer (played magnificently by Jill Clayburge), and her son (played equally fine by Matthew Barry).
Some people have frowned upon the film for it's incestuous content - yet I would beg to differ. Although there most certainly are incest scenes in the film, there is really only one or two which 'shock', yet they are primary to the storyline, and they do help with filling out the flesh of it all, so to speak.
Heroin addiction is another aspect of this film which may disturb some people (especially from a character so young), but being an ex heroin addict myself, these scenes did not bother me, but bought back some pretty painful memories (as did the incest ones), and they are done with beauty and not overindulged at all.
Put simply, this film needs to be seen by everyone, and you must truly see it for what it is - a magnificent piece of artistic cinema in it's most purest form.
This movie's themes and subject matter are taboo to this day, but I for once I'm grateful that those kind of themes are covered at all in an elegant, profound and non-graphic film such as this one. This is not a soft porn flick nor it is made for titillating audiences. The photography, the music and Jill Clayburg's performance are like the icing on a cake. This is one of those rare movies that's so rich in content that it deserves repeated viewing in order to fully understand all it's values and details.
There's a beautiful interview of Bertolucci featured in the bonus in which he comments on how his own remembrances influenced the film - he was a baby and his mother was cycling on the road one night. She was young and beautiful and he remembers seeing her face and then the moon in a way that both seemed to blend together for some moments. The bonus shows us Bertolucci being interviewed in different phases of his life. He is very intelligent and human and has really something to say.
"La Luna" is a very beautiful film that can touch a delicate subject with tenderness and poetry. Jill Clayburgh and Matthew Barry are outstanding as mother and son and I must confess that during the film I wished Jill Clayburgh were my mother. Oh Yes!
I didn't like the ending so much, but I think that maybe Bertolucci wanted an operatic ending to "La Luna", it is a matter of taste, anyway.
On the other hand, such movie-makers do the audience a service in bringing incestuous behavior and psychology to consciousness, where it lurks unconsciously in most people. Mother-son seductiveness is not that rare but is mostly denied and rationalized.
This motion picture from Bernardo Bertolucci is a flabbergastingly inconsistent opus which does not shock anymore and whose composition resembles a mashed frog smeared on one's wall. The film is generally flawed owing to being lamely scripted and having the horrendous dialogues which prejudice the material even more. By re-conceiving the concept from Before the Revolution from 1964, Mr Bertolucci perchance intends to exhibit the putridity of haute bourgeoisie as well as a complicated relationship between the mother and her infant, but he fails to convey anything but cheap gestures, scenes swaying between solemnity and instants of quasi-hysterical exultations reminiscent of a bottom-drawer vaudeville, performers who turn up for no reason whatsoever, a great deal of pointless moments which do not add anything to the already muddled plot. Bertolucci seems to be smug to disclose some bond between opera and cinema, yet, to my way of thinking, the upshot is downright pathetic and deprived of essential ingredients such as likable leading figures. Instead, a viewer is constrained to sit through over two hours with two crass hedonists endeavouring to find happiness in their narcissistic lives. The flick welters in its excesses and it is only palatable once the opera sequences come in sight, unfortunately these are few and far between. The characters in la bête noire by Bertolucci are provided with no depth and constitute just furnishings in this beauteously framed film, shot by the great Vittorio Storaro. The personalities of the main heroes i.e. the opera singer and her son are contrived, unreal, but most of all, there is no chemistry in the realm of their interactions and all the protagonists do is quarrelling and making up. This repetitiveness will prove quite an ordeal for some. Ultimately, we are stranded in this vortex of soap opera seasoned with munificent portions of soap, paltry discourses, ubiquitous aimlessness and directional complacency. Towards the denouement, the opus embarks on being slightly better on account of Tomas Milian's agile performance, but it is too late to revive the already embalmed content.
Jill Clayburgh is not too bad as Caterina Silveri, although her appearance in this movie does not render the things any better. Matthew Barry is the one who feels rather inexperienced in his role and as a consequence, he pronounces his lines virtually phonetically. Tomas Milian is the best member of the cast and his subtle performing infuses some realism into the frenetic work. There are some other dexterous actors e.g. Franco Citti, Alida Valli, Renato Salvatori and Roberto Benigni who almost seems to be perpetuated on the celluloid by accident, his part is very, very insignificant and unnecessary.
The cinematography by Storaro is ravishingly enthralling, as always. Storaro captures the beauty of landscapes like a painter, considerately constructing the image in detail, one element after another. Notwithstanding, if you are exasperated by the dissipated narrative texture, asinine conversations, the insipid, vagabond script and you don't find the film any better than I do, you might be insufficiently attentive to his décor. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is not memorable at all, but it certainly unnerves and prompts some sort of foreboding.
I am certain that there are people who appreciate this flick, but, as far as I am concerned, this blague does not appeal to me forasmuch as it implicates unlikable, one-dimensional characters, loads of senseless sequences, needlessly prolonged running time, contrived dialogues and the enragingly pervasive ambivalence. How to express it all in a couple of lines? At one point in the movie, Joe Silveri prepares supper for himself and his mum. Once he tastes the meal he has just cooked, he winces and utters: "God, it's awful, it sucks". This epitomises La luna for me. It genuinely sucks.
"La Luna" tells the story of the recently widowed American opera diva Caterina Silveri. She takes her teenage son Joe, who believes that it was his father who died, while in reality it was his stepfather, with her on a long singing tour to Italy. But she is so absorbed by her hectic work schedule that she doesn't pay much attention to him. Soon she discovers that her troubled and lonely son has become a heroin addict and in her attempts to get him of the drugs, they start an incestuous relationship. Still, these problems may also result in a meeting between Joe and his real father, whose existence she has always kept a secret, but now reveals in a desperate attempt to make her son act normal again.
I understand that many people will raise an eyebrow after reading this resume, but I guess that's exactly what I mean about keeping an open mind towards as many movies as possible. I'm sure you'll never see such a movie in Hollywood, but that doesn't mean it can't be any good, does it? And yes, perhaps the subject will not appeal to many people, but in my opinion it still is worth giving a try.
I've read in other reviews that this may well be the best movie Bertolucci has ever made, better than "The Last Emperor" and "Little Buddah", his more famous movies. I really can't tell you whether they are right or not, because I haven't seen those movies yet, but what I can say is that this is a good movie. The acting and the photography make this movie look better than average and make the disturbing subject bearable to watch. That's why I give this movie a 7/10. It's probably not to everybody's taste, but it certainly isn't bad.
La Luna is a story about the relationship between an opera singer (Jill Clayburgh) and her son (Matthew Barry). The movie is as beautifully filmed as Bertolucci's movies always are but the weird incestical feeling about it does not appeal to me. I just can't find any reason for it. I also think that the heroin addiction is not portrayed very believably.
Plus points for the strong European feeling in the movie.