La Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1979)

by Smart

Coming in around the middle of Bertolucci’s career, La Luna feels almost like a caricature of his greatest films. Once again he tries to push the boundaries of taboo and erotica, but unlike Last Tango in Paris, this attempt was not nearly as successful or well received. It just isn’t as whole of a film and as a result it often feels as if some key element is missing. There is so much build-up, but so little payoff, and both the drama and conflict feel contained and exploited. Perhaps in trying to push audiences even further, Bertolucci was forcing too much out of his work, and ended up turning it over on itself, with bland oddness and overlong moments of emptiness. It is frustrating to think that he may have approached this film with less than the best in artistic intentions. However, that does not mean La Luna isn’t delicately polished with lush mise-en-scène, which Bertolucci has always been more than proficient at. Unfortunately, it is just not nearly enough to overcome the tired shock value of the story, or the uninspiring flatness of the main characters, despite their excellent performances.

Sweetly, the film does have an almost epic quality which I was able to, at times, get lost in. This is brought about by the sinuous camera, sexual undercurrents and prominent use of opera, which heighten the experience considerably above simple depravity and exploitation. There are multiple themes laden across La Luna, the most prominent of which being the incestuous relationship between mother and son. As if this wasn’t enough to work with on its own, there is also a bout with heroin addiction and the search for a father figure. It is heavy, no doubt about it, but it does not go far enough into the characters, or even far enough outside of them, to reward so much transgression. Perhaps there was just too much involvement needed that I wasn’t able to find, so I ended up feeling distanced when I should have felt embraced and affected.