Sicilian Ghost Story, 2017.
Directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza.
Starring Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Sabine Timoteo, Vincenzo Amato, and Corinne Musallari.
In a small Sicilian village, classmates Guiseppe and Luna have fallen in love. When he suddenly disappears, she refuses to go along with the code of silence and secrecy that confronts her and is determined to find him, however long it takes. Based on true events.
Sicilian born writers/directors Grassadonia and Piazza return to their home island for their first feature since their award winning Salvo (2013), this time with a film based on true events they admit haunt them personally.
In 1993, teenager Guiseppe Di Matteo was kidnapped by the mafia. His father, a former member of the organisation, had turned police informer and abducting the boy was intended to stop him talking. It didn’t work and the boy met a terrible fate. And that’s the basis of the story, with Grassadonia and Piazza also returning to the workings of the mafia but, once again, not giving us a straightforward crime thriller or a kidnap story. Or a ghost story as such. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. There’s no traditional ghosts – no white sheets and big cut-out eyes – but there are ones that come in memory, imagination and, most importantly of all, dreams.
While Guiseppe’s plight – he keeps the same name in the film – is key to the movie, he himself is not at the centre of it. That position is occupied by Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), his classmate at school and his girlfriend. Even though she takes some days to actively start trying to find out what happened to him, she’s frustrated by the apparent inertia, the conspiracy of silence and the never-ending brick walls she comes up against in trying to find out the truth. Everybody tries to discourage her from finding him but she holds on fast to her dreams, especially the ones that tell her he’s alive and that he’s just waiting for her to find him.
As she suffers, campaigns and gets angry, Guiseppe’s (Gaetano Fernandez) situation is terrible and gets even worse. A beautiful boy, he turns into a shadow of himself – a ghost even – malnourished, dirty and close to death, a pitiful sight yet his family won’t give in to the demands of his kidnappers. Luna’s love for him, despite opposition from her family because of his father’s mafia’s connections, never fades and grows stronger over time – long enough for her to shave her head and re-grow her hair, for her to start wearing a bra and for her to move to a senior school. But she never wavers, even though there are moments when her dreams are so intense that, from her family’s perspective anyway, she approaches insanity.
A film that juxtaposes the beautiful with the horrific, the fantastical with the real, the magical with the grisly, Sicilian Ghost Story accomplishes all that with a seemingly effortless visual style. Water is a constant image, producing most of its stand-out and most enduring images, but there are many more which are equally arresting. It’s also a film with a dark heart, one that’s cruel and unforgiving, yet it’s balanced with Luna’s warmth, love, tenderness and unquestioning devotion.
If it has a downside, it’s probably a beat too slow, sometimes more intent on constructing those exquisite images than moving the story forwards. But this isn’t designed to be a conventional kidnap story, but something closer to a fable or even fairy story. There’s no question that it will haunt you afterwards, just like Guiseppe haunts Luna. The film may not be a conventional ghost story, but it won’t leave you alone.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.