Note: This post contains SPOILERS for the first episode of Luna Nera.
It took me a couple of tries to get through the first episode of Luna Nera. Initially, I tried watching with English audio, but I could not get into it. I switched to the original Italian audio with English subtitles (I remember very little of the Italian class I took years ago) and I found that I liked it more that way.
Would I have exerted the same amount of effort had I not read that Luna Nera is the first Italian production with an all women directing/ writing team? Probably not. There is just so much content out there, that it is easy to switch from one show to another if it did not capture one's interest immediately. But I wanted to support Luna Nera.
So, it pains me to write this: 'Omen', the first episode of Luna Nera, was... not great.
Bear in mind that as I write this, I have not yet seen the entirety of the series. Perhaps it improves. I hope so. There are interesting threads here that could develop into a fascinating period fantasy.
Set in a rural community in 17th century Italy, Luna Nera was a tale of a time when religion and superstition ruled over science and logic. When the child of a local nobleman, Giambattista, died at birth, the midwife was accused of witchcraft and arrested by a group called the Benandanti. The midwife was sentenced to death and her granddaughter, Ade, shunned by the villagers.
Ade found an unlikely ally Pietro, who just happened to be the son of the leader of the Benandanti. Pietro had been away in Rome studying; he rushed home when he found out that his mother was ill. Pietro was a strong proponent of science and believed that illnesses explained the conditions the villagers faced, not witchcraft. When he heard of the case of Giambattista's child, he examined the baby and concluded that the cause of death was the umbilical cord strangling the baby. I Googled it and apparently, this is called 'nuchal cord'.
It was Pietro, not Ade, who had the strongest scene of the first episode. When Ade's grandmother was about to the burned at the stake, Pietro tried to save her by presenting his medical evidence. It was a horrifying scene, for a priest, Father Tosco, simply used the evidence as further proof of witchcraft. Where does one find the words to get through an angry and frightened crowd, to drag them away from the beliefs they have held all their lives, as had generations before them? With Pietro's education, science was clearly starting to take root in the country, but it had not yet reached his community nor his own family.
There were short scenes of magic in 'Omens' (I especially liked the thunderstorm that doused the flames that would have burned the midwife), but its more interesting thread so far for me was the scientifically minded Pietro struggling to make the people around him understand that there were far better explanations to tragedies than witchcraft, and far better solutions than burning witches. This is even more interesting given that he had fallen in love with a true witch.
It was Ade who had a premonition of the baby's death. When Giambattista's wife awoke, she pointed to Ade, who was now to be hunted by the Benandanti.
'Women preserve ancient wisdom', Ade's grandmother told her. There was a barrier between the living and the dead, and women keep it closed. If opened, an army of the dead would populate the earth. Would Luna Nera live up to this lofty promise of a dark medieval fantasy? I don't know. There are positive signs, like Manuela Mandracchia's Tebe, who radiated power in stillness. Every scene she had was elevated by her mere presence. There were also references to signs and the women returning to their ancient dwelling. There was that image Ade's sick brother Valente kept drawing. In the end, Ade and Valente found their way to what their grandmother referred to as 'Lost Cities'.
So, it was not easy to get into Luna Nera, but I do intend to watch the rest of it. I won't be recapping all the episodes, but perhaps I'll write a post after I've seen the finale. I remain hopeful that what I saw was just a case of the pilot episode taking some time to find its feet. There's a good story here and maybe, hopefully, it will be told.
■ There is something off about Ade. I don't know if it is the less than stellar performance, or if the writers and directors are trying to tell us something.
■ What's with all the dead deer?
■ The moment the witches are waiting for is about to happen.
■ The Benandanti riding at dusk on their horses with masks on was properly creepy.
■ Ade's grandmother hid a rather important book under the floor boards of their house, then secured it with a spell.
■ Ade's grandmother made her promise to look after her younger brother.
■ Ade used a necklace given to her by her grandmother to enter the secret witch retreat. It was Vanlente who figured out how to open the stone entrance.
■ Because the thunderstorm doused the fires, Pietro's father Sante killed Ade's grandmother with his sword.
■ Sante believed that his wife was sick because of a spell.
■ Pietro's friend Spirto was in a secret relationship with another young witch, though I don't think Spirto knows she's a witch.
■ Pietro's sister who is not really her sister (I don't have an explanation for this yet), Cesaria, saw him help Ade escape after her grandmother's execution.
■ Pietro and Ade arranged to meet in the woods; Pietro said he would colour the fountain as a signal.