“While touring in Italy, a recently-widowed American opera singer has an incestuous relationship with her 15-year-old son to help him overcome his heroin addiction.”
Let me start off by saying that I believe Bernardo Bertolucci to be a revolutionary filmmaker, and someone who’s films I have been a fan of since seeing this film as a child.
To set the stage, La Luna is one of Bertolucci’s most sought after films, not necessarily just because it is perhaps his best (it is!),. but also because it’s never truly had a proper release, due to many reasons, really.
I was about 11 years old when I first saw this film. I used to have a TV in my room, and would often wake up from nightmares in the middle of the night, so would throw the blankets over my head, covering myself and the TV, and plug headphones into the headphone jack of the TV so that nobody would wake up whilst I watched.
Flicking through the channels on one particular cold night, I noticed almost immediately the beautiful surroundings of La Luna flashing across the screen. It needs to be said, the cinematography by Vittorio Storaro is astounding, especially for a film made in 1979. I was captivated by the beautiful scenes of Caracalla Thermals in Rome, and also (later on) of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
Sadly, I had missed the beginning of this incredible film, but it did not stop me from falling in love with it from my first visions. Jill Clayburgh plays Caterina Silveri, an Opera singer who is touring through Italy, with her teenage son (played incredibly by Matthew Barry).
At the premise of this film is the relationship between Caterina and her son, Joe. But the film goes much deeper, and darker than just a “normal” mother/son relationship.
Joe ends up becoming heavily addicted to heroin, and in a last attempt to try to love her son unconditionally, Caterina invests herself in quite an explicit incestuous relationship with him.
At 11 years old, the scenes between Caterina and Joe caused me some distress, but I could not stop watching, nor could I believe that they were showing this film on Television at 3AM in the morning!
It felt like I was the only one in the country who was up watching this, as though it screened just for me (hey, I was a kid!).
Even though the subject matter for this film is deep, and extremely taboo, I would insist that anyone who enjoys films see this film in any way they can (just do not ever see it in a censored version, please).
It is said that Bernardo Bertolucci (Director) has stated this film is his least favorite of all of his, yet it holds somewhat of a very special place in his heart all the same. I believe this to be because he suffered quite an intense relationship with his Mother whilst growing up too (not to the extent of this film).
Needless to say, I stayed up well into the daylight hours of morning (even after this opus film had finished), because I could not get it’s images out of my mind, and over twenty years later they are still there. Some films just do that sort of thing to you, and it’s incredible when it happens (not very often, and with only a handful of films to me).
I HAUNTED this film for years after seeing it, begging video stores to help me try and obtain a copy (legitimately, of course!), but they told me various rumors – it’d been banned, there’s no way I could have seen it on Television, because it’s “not allowed” on there etc, but I had checked the newspaper the following day after seeing it, and it had definitely screened.
Only recently was I able to locate La Luna again and enjoy it as an adult, and it’s impact is similar. Perhaps not quite as shocking as it was when first seeing it, but it still did it’s job at showing the breakdown, collapse and also beauty (in many ways) of a Mother/Son relationship. The ending is astonishing, yet not very well explained, you have to see it for yourself, and interpret it the way that suites you.
A fun bit of trivia – Matthew Barry rarely appeared in any other film, he is instead quite a well-known casting director!
Please see La Luna alone, and in a cold environment as soon as possible, it will help with the overall tone of this , one of the best films by Bernardo Bertolucci.
10 out of 10 – An absolute masterpiece of Italian cinema.