La Luna, A Fable about Family and Imagination (movie notes)

9 Jul

Since Georges Méliès took us on A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) in 1902, we’ve been returning there in the movies.  We are perpetually fascinated by the moon, wondering about its surface; the “man in the moon;” and how it affects our lives on earth. Many films, like Méliès’, depict the moon as something we should conquer, or at least master. In 1969, our fantasies were fulfilled when the first astronauts walked on the moon and planted an American flag. Now we know the moon. And, yet, the moon still figures largely in our imagination, a source of wonder, magic, and fascination. Though we know why its shape shifts across the course of the month, we continue to gaze, awed by the shape and color we see each night.

And, so, it is not surprising that a film would focus on the moon and its wonders. But it is heartwarming that a film could capture the magic we attribute to the moon despite the realities we know about it.

La Luna  (dir. Enrico Casarosa, 2011) is a fable about a little boy who is welcomed by his father and grandfather into the family business. He’s not quite sure what they do or why they’re in a rowboat on the water at night. Papa and Grandpa present him with a newsboy cap that matches theirs. As he puts it on, they argue over whether he should wear it the way Papa does or in Grandpa’s style. Slowly, he learns that they are not fishermen, but moonsweepers, a magical profession that also drives one of my favorite children’s books.*

The boy looks in awe at the moon reflecting on the horizon of the water. (Credit: 84th Academy Awards)

Once he arrives on the moon, aided by old-fashioned tools like a ladder, rope, and  an anchor, the boy discovers hundreds of glowing stars, some still warm.  He watches in awe as a shooting star lands near him. When his grandfather and father join him, they take from the tool shed the tools they use to sweep the stars. Each urges the boy to use his technique. While they argue, a huge shooting star lands.  It’s too big for them to dislodge and sweep and the grown ups are stumped. Finally,  the boy figures out the secret and takes care of the big star. He uses a rake. Gently. I’ll leave it at that.

The film glows with the boy’s anticipation, curiosity, and ingenuity.

After the boy solves the problem, each person picks up his own tool and they sweep and shape the stars.

Like so many children’s stories, La Luna is about generational conflicts, and how families find ways to continue their traditions while simultaneously allowing each member to express his individuality. Without spoken words, the film conveys a broad range of emotions, expressing–sometimes quite humorously–the complexity of relationships between these three people.  It captures a child’s sense of wonder, both as he observes the moon and stars; and as he watches his papa and grandpa bicker.  His eyes couldn’t be wider or warmer.

It did not surprise me to learn that Casarosa was a storyboard artist on Up and Ratatouille. The openness of the character’s faces reminded me of both films. Moreover, the film’s focus on intergenerational family relationships, finding balance, and maintaining a sense of wonder, certainly dovetail with themes from Up.

I also wasn’t surprised to learn that one of Casarosa’s first film memories were of seeing E.T. as an eleven-year old child. This experience, Casarosa said in his Academy Award questionnaire, showed him that films could generate powerful emotions in their viewers. It seems to me that he was marked by E.T. in another way: He clearly has an affinity for fables and for celestial mystery. Casarosa uses the fable to find the magic of family; I think that is what makes the film so heartwarming.

The connection between family and fable, family and mystery has long been a part of how we use stories to teach children about the social groups they occupy. Certainly, Brave and other animated films touch on intergenerational conflict and resolution.  Typically, however, in our more known fairytales, the older generation has to step aside for the younger generation. Not in Brave (stay tuned for Culture Bean’s thoughts on that). And, not in La Luna.  It is refreshing to see a film focus on finding a way to live together; share our strengths and similarities; and savor our differences.


*The Moon and the Night Sweeper by Mai S. Kemble is a must-read picture book about a boy’s flight of fancy and dance with the little-known man who sweeps the stardust each night. I reviewed it for (the now-defunct) Book Buds KidsLit Review in 2008.  Check it out by clicking here.


2 Responses to “La Luna, A Fable about Family and Imagination (movie notes)”


  1. CELESTIAL – a JOSE ESCAMILLA film « Really Good Movies Blog - July 22, 2012

    […] La Luna, A Fable about Family and Imagination (movie notes) ( […]

  2. CELESTIAL – a JOSE ESCAMILLA film « News World Wide - July 22, 2012

    […] La Luna, A Fable about Family and Imagination (movie notes) ( […]

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