4 - A Human Something
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2023
Bernardo Bertolucci's Luna (1979) begins with a sequence attentive to intimate gestures. A child drips honey on its leg; a woman, played by Jill Clayburgh, kisses and sucks the honey off his flesh, and brings her lips, still licking the honey, up to his face. These frames are intimately situated alongside the bodies of the players—very close to a child with no capability for knowing he is being photographed here for a movie, and closer still to Clayburgh, who by contrast is aware of her status and capacity as a professional actor. Bertolucci's frame becomes engulfed by the intimacy shared here between two bodies, in the fiction a mother and child but in our initial perception of the images more immediate and physical (words defining the precise relationship between these two bodies are just slightly beyond our in-the-moment experience of their undulations). A cut away from this intimacy, briefly, as the camera pans across several objects—milk, coffee, a beach ball: there is a little world surrounding these two people—before returning to the mother's face, and from there panning to her honey-dipped finger, which guides itself into the son's mouth (Figure 4). A pause, a breath: Clayburgh looks down at the small child as he begins to cough, to choke a little on this honey, as the soundtrack is engulfed by her breath. Bertolucci's post-synch mixing has the effect, here, of raising Clayburgh's sighs and caring whispers to our attentive ears, as she becomes, momentarily, the lungs of the film itself. Eventually, she coaxes the baby's breathing back to normality. She then brings to his lips a glass of milk, which he rejects.
This bodily quivering in Luna is shared between two actors (one an adult possessed with self-awareness, the other a child who cannot be), and occurs prior to words, knowledge, and conceptual signification. The images are presented less as building blocks for a story event and more as inhalations and exhalations, life that breathes as the celluloid flows through the projector. This shared intimacy between mother and son, outside of language, and yet at the same time inscribed within it, is generated by Bertolucci's language, his way of arranging images.
- Shots to the HeartFor the Love of Film Performance, pp. 21 - 26Publisher: Anthem PressPrint publication year: 2022