Alberto Simone’s Moon Shadow is partly inspired by the work of the late psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, who in the early ’70s founded a series of neighborhood clinics for the mentally ill in northeastern Italy, in order to provide an alternative to the massive asylum where patients were previously treated. Basaglia’s success is re-created in the film with a fairly tranquil community residence in Sicily, stumbled upon by “city slicker” Lorenzo (Tcheky Karyo) when he returns to his childhood house to oversee its renovation. Contrived symmetries begin accumulating upon his arrival: Though Lorenzo is a scientist who studies black-hole theory, he soon learns—with the aid of his wry handyman, Salvatore (Nino Manfredi)—that hypothetical bodies in far-off space are of small importance compared to the concrete concerns of both their troubled young neighbors and the salvaging of Lorenzo’s home.
Moon Shadow offers lovely, reverent shots of the azure seaside and the verdant decrepitude of Lorenzo’s estate. But the script’s relativity-of-knowledge pretensions extend uncomfortably to its portrayal of the mentally ill, who are provided with rote flashes of profundity. Simone lacks the matter-of-factness that the material would seem to require: Both the very existence of the clinic and the fact that Salvatore has a son among its patients are introduced as big-secrets-revealed, but none of the faintly condescending attentions paid to the mentally ill characters can mask their narrative purpose as a simple means for Lorenzo to wake up to the world outside his study. That said, if Moon Shadow does sometimes overcome its sentimentalism and faulty parallels, it’s because the film is altogether unburdened by cynicism.