“He’s different from the others — he’s very lonely… You know that.”
After the untimely death of her husband (Fred Gwynne), an opera singer (Jill Clayburgh) takes her teenage son (Matthew Barry) with her to Italy, and soon finds herself immersed in a desperate battle to save him from heroin addiction.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s infamous Oedipal tale about a self-absorbed opera diva and the incestuous love she exhibits towards her deeply troubled teenage son was panned by critics upon its release, with Vincent Canby of the New York Times referring to it as “one of the most sublimely foolish movies ever made by a director of Mr. Bertolucci’s acknowledged talents”, and Roger Ebert unabashedly proclaiming that “Bertolucci has sprung his gourd this time.” Nowadays, Luna is considered an undiscovered masterpiece by a handful of devoted followers — who refer to it on IMDb as a “superb film”, a “flawed masterpiece”, a “bizarre, surreal melodrama”, and “ultimate beauty in its purest form” — but I’m in agreement with the critical elite: despite its fine production values and cinematography (it’s undeniably beautiful to look at), Luna remains a laughable mess of a film, one which consistently defies literal interpretation and possesses far too much unintentional camp value to be taken seriously. While viewers are clearly meant to interpret the tale as archetypically Freudian — complete with a convenient “missing father figure” denouement — only those with an abiding belief in the veracity of psychoanalysis (such as Bertolucci himself at the time) will find any genuine nuggets of psychological insight here.
After the first promising 15 minutes or so (during which Fred Gwynne’s level-headed character is, unfortunately, killed off), nothing about the overblown storyline comes across as remotely realistic: Barry’s heroin addiction is never authentically introduced or sustained; peripheral characters disappear with maddening whimsicality (what ever happened to Barry’s new Italian girlfriend, for instance?); and Clayburgh’s response to her son’s problem — while refreshingly removed from “afternoon special of the week” banality — is far too conveniently sublimated into titillatingly incestuous interactions. Clayburgh (fresh from her success in Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman) seems to be trying her best with the material she’s been given, but her character is ultimately such a mess of unappealing contradictions that it can’t be salvaged; Barry, meanwhile, never fully inhabits his character’s neurotic personality — instead, he simply shifts at a moment’s notice between petulant teen and (supposed) raging addict. While viewers may find some enjoyment in the film’s overall campiness — such as the infamous scene in which Barry erotically licks his mother’s dirt-encrusted face, or when Clayburgh tries to release some tension by doing aerobics with her lesbian pursuer — Luna is ultimately far too frustrating to recommend.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Vittorio Storaro’s lush cinematography
No; while it has a small following, and was somewhat notorious upon its release, it’s certainly not must-see viewing any longer.