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Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial drama explores the troubled life of a young man and his troubling relationship with his parents.
Joe (Matthew Barry) is the son of famous opera singer Caterina Silveri (Jill Clayburgh); while Joe believes that Caterina's husband Douglas Winter (Fred Gwynne) is his biological father, the truth is that he was sired by Caterina's former lover, who is now living in Italy and working as a schoolteacher.
Joe is moody and rebellious and needs a strong father figure to guide him and keep him in line. But Douglas is ineffectual and emotionally weak, and when Joe witnesses Douglas committing suicide, it sends the young man over the edge.
In hopes of boosting her singing career, which has fallen into a rut, Caterina decides to move to Italy, with Joe in tow; Joe falls in with a dangerous crowd and becomes addicted to heroin, while Caterina, hoping to lure her son back to a safer and more healthy lifestyle, tries to become closer to him, which leads to a flirtation with incest.
Jill Clayburgh's performance earned her a 1980 Golden Globe nomination.