BR: Moon Child / El niño de la luna (1989)

July 26, 2019 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Cult Epics

Region: A, B, C

Released:  April 24, 2018

Genre:  Fantasy / Adventure

Synopsis: A boy and a couple escape a compound run by a fascistic cult and head to Africa, where fate and mystic power converge.

Special Features:  2018 Interview with director Agusti Villaronga (14:58) / Lobby Card & Photo Gallery / Isolated 32 track / (52:31) Score Gallery (music & effects) / Bonus soundtrack CD (5 tracks / 8:16) / DVD-Blu-ray combo.




After making his feature film debut with the striking and deeply unsettling drama In a Glass Cage (1986), Spanish auteur Agusti Villaronga’s next project was something more dreamy and less controversial (to a point). The frankness and use of stark imagery and nudity may be Moon Child‘s most overtly teasing elements, but venturing into Villaronga’s unique amalgam of mysticism (plus homages to mystics George Gurdjieff and Aleister Crowley) is more rewarding for viewers when there’s no expectation beyond a desire to be lured by a myth tailored for adults.

The story is set in a dystopian gap between WWI and WWII, in which a fascistic government agency adopts potentially gifted  boys and girls and tests them for both telekinetic strengths and the possibility one child (or teen) may be a moon child, offering adult masters some kind of mystical power.

What the adults want, and the developing telekinesis among the kids aren’t important; what matters is the pulpy, globe-trotting, cross-cultural travels of young David (Enrique Saldana), orphaned and adopted by the secretive organization, and his emerging relationship with agent and de facto children’s matron Victoria (The Blood Splattered Bride’s stunning and hypnotic Maribel Martin), who observes, tests, and ultimately seeks to apply more care and comfort to the boy than her murderous masters.

The cruel actions of the collegiate aren’t shown – just dropped as statements, because Villaronga is especially concerned with keeping his tale moving at a brisk pace, and maintaining urgency and a sense of adventure when pregnant Georgina (musician Lisa Gerard!) and Edgar (David Sust) plot an escape to Africa, where they hope to settle and give birth to the moon child Georgina is supposedly carrying.

That’s really all that should be detailed at this point, purely because the twists are sometimes intense, but always grounded from the vantage of young David, although Villaronga cross-cuts to the trio’s pursuers, and their inevitable confrontation.

In fitting the tale between two world wars, Villaronga and his production designers embraces sleek, neo-Deco clothes, textiles, hairstyles, and minutia of a fascist regime, as well palpable traits absorbed from Dario Argento, especially Suspiria (1978). There are no witches in Moon Child, but like Argento, Villaronga sets the school for gifted subjects within an elegant edifice where architectural components flow; the school’s colours are matte brown and beige, but like the temporary sleeping quarters for the dancers in Suspiria, Villaronga has the kids and youths tested, scrutinized, and catalogued in a large atrium with sheets dividing the area into a network of geometric patterns.

The building doesn’t breathe, but it too has its drafty passages which allow the curious to discover secrets with impunity. There’s also David being a wanted human key to both completing a mystical design for power, and being a surrogate child of matron Victoria, and also Georgina, the latter whom he regards as his real mother in spite of her very pregnant state.

Shades of Alejandro Jodorowsky are also palpable when the tale leaps to Africa, but only in the use of striking landscapes, ancient architecture and holy places, and the interaction between cultures using action and reactions instead of verbal communication. David’s friendship with a local boy is virtually non-verbal, and one can argue it succeeds because of the boys’ ambition, understanding, and actions in place of dialogue.

The African locations are isolated, textured, and stark, but beautiful in their organic relationship to the ground and the sky, with the temple at the finale appropriately reaching to the stars like a termite funnel aligned under the moon’s bright spotlight. The lighting design by Villaronga regular Jaume Peracaula intentionally ramps up brightness to evoke the glare and power of moonlight, but the high contrast cinematography may also stem from Villaronga’s desire to maximize image clarity and colour by saturating luminance, especially night scenes, eschewing elaborate chiaroscuro.

Villaronga’s compositions are striking and flow organically between lap dissolves and moody, semi-surreal montages of enlarged eyes, circles, and objects. Raul Roman’s seamless edits are particularly gripping during montages where the camera glides alongside characters as they navigate through the building’s swirling staircases and walkways – perhaps Villaronga’s most overt link to Argento’s own flowing visual style.

Moon Child‘s images are neatly fitted with a sleek, simple sound design, and an original score by Dead Can Dance, featuring Gerard, who makes a rare co-starring debut as vulnerable Georgina. Like David’s relationship with a same-aged boy in Africa, Georgina relies on sights and reactions for communication, and it’s a sometimes tough performance style to accept, as Villanronga wanted his primary cast to emphasize states of angst, inner suspicions, and arduous decisions through wide eyes and slight pantomime. It’s one of the reasons Saldana’s performance feels limited; the one-time actor moves a little stiffly, and his eyes and mouth are stuck in prolonged states of childish wonderment.

How Gerard became involved with the productions is explained in the compact Q&A with Villaronga: after being cast as Georgina, Gerard suggested scoring the film with a blend of electronics, organic percussion, and vocals. No tapes from the recording session nor any dubs survive, but the Blu-ray includes the cues lifted from the mixed soundtrack in non-indexed chapters in an isolated score gallery. The BR-DVD combo set also comes with a bonus audio CD featuring 5 tracks from the soundtrack, most likely the handful of cues lacking overt sound effects. The last 3 cuts are in stereo, and in spite of the sleeve art stating a 2.0 mono mix, the vivid Spanish audio is in true stereo surround 2.0.

The included trailer (unsurprisingly) emphasizes moments without any dialogue – a classic marketing tease that hides the film’s Spanish language in favour of images and sounds. Bonus trailers include In a Glass Cage, which starred Sust, and Gunter Meisner, who has a small but memorable role as Edgar’s diseased father.

Villaronga’s feature films include In a Glass Cage (1986), Moon Child (1989), 99.9 (1997), El Mar (2000), Aro Tolbukhin in the Mind of a Killer (2002), Black Bread (2010), The King of Havana (2015), Uncertain Glory (2017), and Born a King (2019).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmographies: Lisa Gerard / Dead Can Dance
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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