Bertolucci’s La Luna

After her husband’s death in a car crash, opera singer Caterina takes her son Joe with her on tour in Italy. The two meet her former lover, Joe’s biological father. The film employs two extended operatic scenes: one from Un ballo in maschera at the end, which is perhaps a family reunion; and the duel scene from Il trovatore, where the eponymous troubador and the Count vie for the heroine Leonora’s affections. She is played by Caterina, and we watch Joe move from the audience to the backstage world where the theatrical illusion is created. As the diva’s son he apparently has free rein to wander where he pleases. Verdi’s opera has an absurdly complex backstory. Manrico, Lenora’s true love, is the son of Azucena, a gypsy from the rebellious mountains whose own mother was burned at the stake by the Count’s father. Count Luna (nudge nudge) thus has a political as well as an amorous motive to kill him, quite apart from the question of vendetta. But it turns out (bear with me) that Manrico and the Count’s brother were swapped as infants. Azucena threw the wrong baby onto her mother’s pyre — her own son, not the kidnapped sibling. So when the Count has Manrico executed in the final scene, Azucena finally achieves vengeance; blood is thicker than water. The structure of Bertolucci’s backstory is simpler — Joe’s father isn’t who he thought he was — but the situation is paralleled in the rivalry of the two men. Joe’s tour of the smoke and mirrors behind the performance echoes his discovery that all was not what it seemed. According to one website I saw while researching this post, Bertolucci had just completed ten years of psychoanalysis when he made the film.

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