Luna Nera (Netflix, 2020)
Luna Nera, or Black Moon, is a Netflix horror/fantasy series based on the novels of Tiziana Triana. The programme is in Italian, but English (and other) subtitles were available.
Set in seventeenth-century Italy, it features group of witches persecuted by the almost entirely male Benandanti, a violent group aligned to the church and led by the local landowner.
The witches are scattered and isolated. Their situation is very precarious. Ade only realises that she has special powers when she accompanies her midwife grandmother to a birth in progress and sees the baby’s soul leave his body as he is strangled by his umbilical cord.
After she tells her grandmother this, the dying mother denounces Ade as a witch and the two women flee. The grandmother is then captured by the Benandanti and burned at the stake.
Ade is stricken by the loss of her grandmother and by the discovery of her powers. She falls in love with the son of the Benendanti leader, which further complicates her position. Following her grandmother’s instructions, she takes her younger brother and flees to the witches’ home, which is protected by a spell.
Unfortunately, the magical book her grandmother possessed is left behind. An attempt to recover it leads to the book falling into the hands of a monk who is interested in wielding the witches’ power.
The witches protect Ade, whose power is to hear the voices of other witches in danger calling out for help. As she learns to wield this power, they rescue as many young women as possible and their power grows with their numbers.
I loved Luna Nera and devoured it almost at a single viewing. The central premise, familiar from many witchcraft narratives, is that the patriarchy threatens both women’s physical safety and their empowered freedom to be themselves. That was true in the seventeenth century and it’s true now. The witches’ strength lies in their fierce loyalty to each other as much as in their powers, though keeping the coven together and disciplined isn’t always easy.
There is real danger for the women at every turn, so Luna Nera included a lot of action and the tension really grew as the narrative progressed. The final showdown was compelling, and the plot twist that provided a fresh take on the ending was everything a good plot twist should be: simultaneously inevitable yet unpredictable. That element was especially well done.
One final shout out to the music. I love Italy, in part because of how the country’s essentially medieval nature sits alongside its modern energy. The use of modern rock music in Luna Nera, especially later as the action intensified, was very striking and it worked: reminding us that the female struggle for empowerment and security is as much a modern battle as one waged hundreds of years ago by brave women unjustly accused before being violently murdered.
Thank you for reading my review of Luna Nera. I hope you liked it! Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I'll be back on Wednesday.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A Villareal here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Rain here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Clover by Susan Coolidge here.