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Luna Park: taking notice of Nora and Rosa’s ally-ship

Written by Flavia Franguelli

Written by Isabella Aguilar and released in September 2021, the Italian Netflix show Luna Park has at its core the story of Nora and Rosa, two long-lost sisters who finally meet again and start to find out the truth about their past. Televisions and colourful scooters, as well as posters of La dolce vita and reproductions of Italian quiz shows like Il musichiere suggest the series’ setting, i.e. Italy in the 1960s.

These elements evoke Mareike Jenner’s description of a “Netflix nostalgia [that] usually relies on complicated webs of intertextual references to the popular culture of the past, more than the past itself”. According to Jenner, the nostalgic way in which Netflix portrays the past prevents people from critically engaging with it. Despite this problem of depoliticization, however, Jenner affirms that “the use of nostalgic signifiers is helpful in building ‘alternative’ spaces to negotiate contemporary politics”[1]. Such a concept evokes Elana Levine’s “feminist fantasy space”, quoted by Elizabeth Alsop in her account of six TV series released between 2013 and 2018[2]. According to Alsop, the hostile settings of these series allow them to foreground female bonds, which are precisely bonds of ally-ship rather than sisterhood. What drives them, indeed, is not the affinity among the protagonists, but a struggle for survival against heteropatriarchy that makes them overcome class and race differences in a celebration of intersectionality. Women’s success, i.e. their survival, must not be read, as it is in some critiques, as an excess of sentimentality: it is rather a specific way to overturn male-oriented hierarchies that have always dominated quality TV. Indeed, in Alsop’s words, “the happy endings [that the series] offer are designed with a distinct, female-identified demographic in mind”.

Drawing on Jenner’s considerations, what I suggest here is that the historical setting of Luna Park constitutes a space where (contemporary) issues can be discussed; that the most significant of these issues is the establishment of a female ally-ship allows us to include the series in Alsop’s framework. Despite being actual sisters, indeed, Nora and Rosa grew up like strangers in two opposing social contexts. Rosa belongs to an affluent family, attends university and is often shown reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. This reading has probably inspired her desire for change and shaped her unconventional concept of women, as well as her rebellious and almost insolent character. Nora, on the other hand, has always lived at the family funfair with her father, her grandmother and some old family friends. Partly because she lost her mother when she was a baby, these bonds play a special role in Nora’s life and they must be protected from the outside world and its threat of early consumerism and political struggles. With an evident lack of initial affinity, the protagonists’ genetic sisterhood is not the reason why they get along with each other: rather, its retrieval symbolizes the successfulness of their ally-ship against the people who had separated them (Rosa’s pro-fascist father Tullio significantly appears to be the main perpetrator of this intrigue). Moreover, Nora and Rosa are asked to think intersectionally because they must recognize that their past experiences have a different impact on how they face the life-changing discovery of their sisterhood. In this respect, it must be noticed that the protagonists’ fight for the truth inevitably involves other women in their families: Nora’s grandmother Miranda, her dead daughter Stella and Rosa’s mother Lucia. Nora has always thought that Stella was her real mother and Miranda never told her the truth: consequently, once faced with the evidence Nora must question her memory of Stella while listening to Miranda’s justifications, not least Stella’s strong desire to become a mother after two miscarriages. On the other hand, Lucia never stopped searching for her lost daughter and after meeting Nora she tries her best to start a ‘natural’ mother-daughter communication. It is evident, then, that in Luna Park there is more at stake than a mystery to be revealed: the female protagonists strive to establish a relationship, while family bonds between women must be negotiated at an intergenerational level.

However, the analysis of about 500 comments under YouTube and Instagram official posts of Luna Park suggests that the users were primarily concerned with the narrative aspects of Nora and Rosa’s sisterhood, complaining that the mystery was revealed right in the first episode. While this tendency was confirmed by a set of critical reviews[3], the more articulated representation of female relationships seems to have gone unnoticed. Indeed, although young girls are becoming more passionately interested in how their peers, and the bonds between them, are portrayed on screen[4], a sort of insensitivity can still be perceived among broader social media audience and critique. And yet, the success gained by the TV show My Brilliant Friend suggests a discrepancy between the products rooted in high-culture phenomena (in this case Elena Ferrante’s books) and mainstream Netflix productions. However, given the commercial nature of streaming platforms, it is crucial to investigate and analyse what these products can give to their main target audience, i.e. young people. In the case of Luna Park, considering Alsop’s framework, the heteropatriarchal hierarchies that have always dominated quality TV might be reasonably pointed as one of the main causes of the insensitivity towards the representation of female relationships.


[1] Jenner considers the case of Sex Education, quoting Horeck’s idea that the series builds an inclusive space for LGBTQA+ people. Cfr: Jenner, M. (2021). Netflix, nostalgia and transnational television. Journal of Popular Television, 9(3), 301-305. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/jptv_00058_1

[2] The series analyzed by Alsop are Big Little Lies, GLOW, Claws, Top of the Lake, Dietland and Orange is the New Black. Cfr: Alsop, E. (2019). Sorority flow: the rhetoric of sisterhood in post-network television. Feminist Media Studies, 19(7), 1026-1042. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2019.1667066

[3] Lindy Hop, “Tutto quello che non funziona in Luna Park”, Rolling Stone, October 2021 (https://www.rollingstone.it/tv/tutto-quello-che-non-funziona-in-luna-park/586712/#Mystery); Claudio Pizzigallo, “Luna Park, la serie tv italiana merita davvero di essere vista?”, Today, October 2021 (https://www.today.it/media/serie-tv/luna-park-serie-tv-netflix-recensione.html)

[4] In Baby, scriptwriter Isabella Aguilar had already brought on screen two female protagonists: their friendship turned out to be the element that Italian young female audience appreciated the most, while the glamorization of prostitution, highlighted by the critique, took second place. Cfr: ExeTalks, Prof. Danielle Hipkins, Modern Languages and Cultures (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcUpb77YXIU).

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