As the title implies, Luminous Motion is an odd and intriguing package, balanced on the narrow line between narrative and pure imagery. In this film, we meet ten-year-old Philip (Eric Lloyd), who is on an extended road trip with his mother (Deborah Kara Unger). It's no ordinary summer-vacation-style cross-country trip, however, and Philip and his mom are hardly ordinary people. Driven by the need to keep on moving, and funding their journey by seduction and petty crime, the two of them skip from town to town in search of... something. Philip only wants to keep in motion forever, just the two of them; his mother's secret yearning for something more stable will eventually put the two of them at odds.
The film takes an interesting point of view, presenting events from Philip's highly subjective perspective: as even he admits later in the film, he's an unreliable narrator even about his own life. But while this is in many ways the most interesting part of the film, director Bette Gordon never really goes anywhere with it. She's clearly fascinated by both the visual elements of the film, and the imagery contained in the language of the script, which deal with images of light and motion. Luminous Motion very nearly loses track of its fragile line of narrative, instead veering toward the realm of pure imagery and suggestion; fortunately, the narrative element remains present to a sufficient degree to provide some forward motion to the story, though not as much as I would have liked.
The unconventional family in Luminous Motion, with mother and son skipping from town to town, living off the proceeds of seduction and petty crime, is presented in an nonjudgmental manner; each character is treated as an individual, to be liked or disliked by the audience on his or her own merits. And in fact, young Eric Lloyd manages to be that rarity in film, an unsympathetic child character: sometimes appealing and sometimes creepy, as circumstances dictate. After seeing Deborah Kara Unger in her small part in The Game and her significant role here, I'm definitely interested in seeing her in future films as well. Her character has to be both tough and sensitive, troubled and "luminous," and she manages to pull it off quite well. It's the secondary roles that weaken the overall fabric of the film. Unger and Lloyd are excellent in the scenes that they have by themselves, but later in the film, the additional characters we meet are less than convincing, and seem to be pulling the film in contrary directions.
The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer of Luminous Motion is fairly attractive overall. The main weakness of the picture is the presence of a substantial number of print flaws, ranging from small flecks to persistent vertical scratches in a few scenes. On the positive side, the contrast is good, with detail apparent in both bright and dark scenes, and the colors are bright and lively.
Luminous Motion doesn't make much use of surround effects, but the Dolby 5.1 track offers clear, distortion-free sound. In some scenes, the voices are deliberately distorted for effect; the overall clarity of the track allows the dialogue in both the altered and the normal voices to come across perfectly clearly.
The Luminous Motion DVD is nearly bare-bones, featuring a trailer, brief filmographies, and web links.
An official selection of the Toronto Film Festival, Luminous Motion has the strength of independent film: a topic chosen, and examined, and played out, without yielding to the pressures of commercialism and popular expectations. It's not perfect, but it's certainly interesting and worth taking a look at.