Teté and the Moon, The Tit and the Moon
DIRECTED BY: Bigas Luna
FEATURING: Mathilda May, Biel Durán, Gérard Darmon, Miguel Poveda
PLOT: Frustrated at losing access to his mother’s chest following the birth of his baby brother, young Teté becomes enraptured with Estrellita, a dancer who comes to town as part of a traveling show; he competes for her attentions with her husband as well as a lovestruck young man.
COMMENTS: Part of the charm – and also the frustration – of the coming-of-age film is that it relies on the point of view of someone too young to fully understand the world around them. An innocent, unburdened by years of maturity and perspective. We watch them with a combination of longing for their ignorance and sympathy for their embarrassment.
La Teta y La Luna doubles down on this by handing over the narration to its central character, Teté. Not a grown-up Teté looking back at his youthful folly with rueful hindsight, mind you, but the boy himself, speaking in the past tense but still deep in the thrall of his adolescent, unearned bravado. When he confidently tells us that he “devastated” a foe’s motorcycle, we can see for ourselves that he’s lamely kicking it to no effect. So he would seem to be an extremely unreliable narrator indeed. Except when it’s surely our eyes that deceive us. For when Teté informs us that every woman in a bodega is offering her breasts to him, what we see is exactly that. How could this possibly be? Surely this is wishful thinking to the greatest extreme.
For you see – to paraphrase Loudon Wainwright III – Teté is a “tit man.” Ever since his newborn brother arrived, the pleasure of suckling at his mother’s teat has been denied to him, and he has been in search of a replacement. (The title pulls off a neat double meaning, referencing both the main character and his overriding obsession.) So the one thing we can trust absolutely is that he immediately settles upon Estrellita, the beautiful dancer who has just come to Teté’s small oceanfront village.
He’s hardly alone in being drawn to the comely ballerina, which complicates our understanding of the film’s point of view. Teté’s teenage rival, Miguel, is nearly sick with longing from the moment he encounters Estrellita and begins to sing to her with a voice that should earn him a gig fronting the Gipsy Kings. There’s nothing ironic or misleading about his pain. Meanwhile, Estrellita’s husband Maurice is given all the hallmarks of parody: despite looking like a grizzled and silver-maned biker, Maurice’s talent is as a modern-day successor to Le Petomane, and Estrellita makes love to him on their trailer waterbed and collects his tears in a jar while he makes her eat a baguette which he wields in place of his manhood. He’s ridiculous even as he cuts a dashing figure, but again we don’t doubt what we see. If we can take Miguel and Maurice at face value, who’s to say that Teté isn’t exactly what he presents to us?
So let us now turn to the object of all their affections. Mathilda May has already distinguished herself in these hallowed halls as a beautiful actress who is willing to put her full and uncovered beauty on display, and that reputation is certainly burnished here. If we are to believe Teté, she is ready and willing to provide him with access to a veritable firehose of milk from her bared breast. Luna’s camera is as in love with Estrellita’s chest as most of the male characters. But this objectification becomes extremely awkward in the face of Estrellita’s increasing discomfort. She dotes on her husband, and he responds with jealousy and resentment. She shows her unease with Miguel’s repeated declarations of love, but loses agency in the face of his increasing threats of self-harm. And we never even get to see what would logically be her concerns with Teté’s blunt and inappropriate requests. (For Teté, none of this appears to be sexual, but it surely is for her.) For the princess at the heart of this fairy tale, there’s a worrisome ignorance of her needs and fears. La Teta y La Luna is obsessed with Estrellita’s chest, but not much with the heart that beats underneath.
The film wraps up with a happy ending for everyone, most significantly for Teté, who gets to feed from both Estrellita and his own mother, a conclusion that bears no resemblance to anything approaching reality. The tone throughout is bright and charming, but it’s a strange and selfish lesson this tale delivers: “Persist and you’ll get what you want, fellas.” It’s a tale as old as time, but maybe it’s time for a rethink.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by Wormhead, who called it “a surrealistic spanish/french film by Bigas Luna.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)