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February 07, 2017

LUNA

LunaBernardo Bertolucci willingly falls into every cinematic pitfall any film artist could make in this follow-up film to “1900,” an epic masterpiece that seamlessly shifts from formal to neo-realistic to sweeping romance in a wartime setting before tilting into magical realism.  

“Luna,” however, is a kitchen-sink melodrama that seems to proffer that it’s okay for a mom to jerk off her teenage son so long as she does it while he’s in a heroin-induced state. Never mind that mom scored the smack to keep her son’s habit in check. Mother and son also kiss passionately once in public, but at least the abused boy refuses to eat out his mom when she pushes his head into her panty-clad crotch. It’s better to get these dicey plot points out of the way in order to properly address, analyze, and critique the taboo subject that puts Bernardo Bertolucci in waters far above his head.

Bertolucci has said that, because he had given the patriarchy so much mileage with his previous films, he wanted to do something for the matriarchy. If anything he sets matriarchy back to the middle ages. Informed by the Freudian archetypes of psychoanalysis he was undergoing at the time, Bertolucci co-wrote “Luna” with his wife, brother, and regular script collaborator Franco Arcalli. The hodgepodge script that results is infuriating for a host of reasons not limited to Bertolucci’s seeming endorsement of sexual mother/son relations.

The film is clouded with overworked (artificial) obfuscations that run the gambit. Jill Clayburgh gamely plays Caterina Silveri, an American opera singer whose husband (Fred Gwynne) dies from a heart attack just before the couple is set to fly to Italy for Caterina to perform in a Verdi opera. As a result of the death, Caterina takes her 16-year-old son Joe (Matthew Berry) with her to Italy where he instantly develops a heroin addiction with the help of a local girl. Joe’s tortured mental state is exacerbated by the discovery that his biological father is an Italian guy in love with his own mother.

“Luna” is an indefensible film because it is built on unsupported narrative clichés that Bertolucci never resolves. Bertolucci is said to have asked if all boys didn’t “sleep with their mothers.” Whether he intended “sleep” to be literal or figurative (sexual) is a question that casts unfavorable light on his relationship with his own mother.

LUNA

It seems clear that Bernardo Bertolucci was attempting to work through personal psychological demons by making “Luna.” In so doing, the filmmaker exposes self-referential tendencies that cheapen every artistic impulse that went into masterpieces such as “Last Tango In Paris” or “1900.” When Fred Gwynne’s character pulls a piece of gum from underneath a balcony railing, the not-so-subtle nod to “Last Tango In Paris” comes across as an inappropriate piece of narrative filler. Later in the film, Caterina and Joe drive through the Parma farmhouse that featured prominently in “1900.” What was once full of life is now a socially barren landscape that mother and son view from their incestuous emotional perspective. Their taboo reality is a nightmare that will not resolve. The worst part of it is that we, the audience, don’t care.

ction with the help of a local girl. Joe’s tortured mental state is exacerbated by the discovery that his biological father is an Italian guy in love with his own mother.

“Luna” is an indefensible film because it is built on unsupported narrative clichés that Bertolucci never resolves. Bertolucci is said to have asked if all boys didn’t “sleep with their mothers.” Whether he intended “sleep” to be literal or figurative (sexual) is a question that casts unfavorable light on his relationship with his own mother.

It seems clear that Bernardo Bertolucci was attempting to work through personal psychological demons by making “Luna.” In so doing, the filmmaker exposes self-referential tendencies that cheapen every artistic impulse that went into masterpieces such as “Last Tango In Paris” or “1900.” When Fred Gwynne’s character pulls a piece of gum from underneath a balcony railing, the not-so-subtle nod to “Last Tango In Paris” comes across as an inappropriate piece of narrative filler. Later in the film, Caterina and Joe drive through the Parma farmhouse that featured prominently in “1900.” What was once full of life is now a socially barren landscape that mother and son view from their incestuous emotional perspective. Their taboo reality is a nightmare that will not resolve. The worst part of it is that we, the audience, don’t care.

Rated R. 122 mins. (D) (One Star — no halves)

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