Luna (1979) : Bertolucci’s Incestuous Melodrama Starring Jill Clayburgh

Luna, Bernardo Bertolucci’s follow up to his big-budget and ambitious epic, 1900, is an intimate, controversial drama about the life and identity crisis of a troubled teenager and his complex relationship with his parents, especially his mother.

Joe (Matthew Barry) is the son of famous opera singer Caterina Silveri (Jill Clayburgh). He believes that Caterina’s husband Douglas Winter (Fred Gwynne) is his biological father, but, in fact he was sired by Caterina’s former lover, who is now living in Italy and working as a schoolteacher.

Moody, unstable, and rebellious, Joe and needs a strong father figure to guide him. But Douglas is ineffectual and emotionally weak, and when Joe witnesses Douglas committing suicide, it sends him over the edge.

Meanwhile, hoping to boost her dwindling singing career, Caterina moves to Italy with Joe.  It doesn’t take long for Joe to associate with the wring and dangerous crowd, and to become addicted to heroin,

Caterina, hoping to lure her son back to a safer and healthier lifestyle, tries to become closer to him, which leads to a flirtation with incest.

Jill Clayburgh, then at the height of her popularity after scoring an Oscar nod for Mazursky’s Unmarried Woman, is simply miscast.  She is too ordinary in looks and manners to play an eccentric woman—and opera singer at that.

Overlong (two and a half hours), the film circles around its main issues, and turns ponderous but never focuses them in any depth, resulting in a melodrama that borders a soap opera.

You can spot in small parts the great Italian star Alida Valli and the young comedian Roberto Benigni.

World-premiering at the N.Y. Film fest, the film was both an artistic and commercial disappointment.


Running time: 144 minutes

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Released: September 30, 1979.