×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Sicilian Ghost Story’

Co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza beautifully mix fairy tale and mythological tropes with the harsh reality of a Mafia kidnapping.

Director:
Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
With:
Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallari, Andrea Falzone, Federico Finocchiaro, Lorenzo Curcio, Vincenzo Amato, Sabine Timoteo, Filippo Luna, Baldassare Tre Re, Rosario Terranova, Gabriele Falsetta, Vincenzo Crivello, Corrado Santoro, Nino Prester. (Italian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5375434/

In “Sicilian Ghost Story,” co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s superb follow-up to 2013’s Critics’ Week prizewinner “Salvo,” the duo evocatively interweave the richness of fairy tales with the obscenity of Mafia control. Based on the 1993 kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, held by the Mafia for 779 days in the hopes of silencing his informant father, the film invents a classmate with a crush who refuses to sweep Giuseppe’s disappearance under the rug. Her bond with the kidnapped boy, manifested through fairy tale symbols — a forest, a cave, animals, a lake — seamlessly dovetails with reality, drawing to the surface the anguish of a lost life together with the disgraceful fact that we as a society allow ourselves not to be haunted by acts of inhumanity. “Ghost Story” deserves a conspicuous place on international art-house screens.

Comparisons will be made with a host of other films using Brothers Grimm tropes, most of all “Pan’s Labyrinth” for the way it combined fairy tales with Spanish fascism, and yet Grassadonia and Piazza steer clear of mythical creatures or a magical place existing alongside our own. Their evocation of children’s fables is more grounded in real countryside, and thanks to Luca Bigazzi’s fluid expertise with low-angle shots and slightly distorting lenses, well-modulated while never gratuitous, the filmmaking doesn’t simply tell a story but makes us feel its impact.

Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) follows Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) into the woods after school, watching him marvel at a butterfly on his hand as she’s startled by a ferret sniffing at her heels. If it sounds precious in the retelling, it’s not — magical, sure, but not cloying, and not because the pair are then menaced by a dog who’s just been gnawing on a dead rabbit. Animals don’t talk in “Sicilian Ghost Story” but they do bear witness, like a reappearing small owl, which recalls the bird’s association with Hades and Ovid’s description of it as a “sad omen to mankind.”

Luna’s Swiss mother Saveria (Sabine Timoteo) knows her daughter has a crush on Giuseppe and isn’t happy at all, though whether it’s because his father was a Mafia assassin or because he became a turncoat is never clear. Saveria is styled like the Wicked Stepmother: black hair parted in the middle and pulled back, her voice soft yet always angry, and as she offers her daughter an apple, the comparison is complete (while the name Saveria is the Italian female equivalent of Xavier, it’s hard to escape the way it resembles “severo,” or “severe”).

When Giuseppe disappears, Luna can’t get any answers. After weeks without word, she and best friend Loredana (Corinne Musallari) paper the town with flyers saying, “Giuseppe has disappeared, and what are you doing about it?”, but they’re met with silence. We know he’s been kidnapped by Mafia thugs dressed as cops, who’ve brought him to an abandoned half-built house where he’s kept chained, his captors hoping his father will stop talking (in the subtitles the father is referred to as a “supergrass,” a slang term for “informer” used in England but largely unknown in the U.S.). The code of silence in Sicily is so strong, even among those not involved with the Mafia, that everyone turns a blind eye except for Luna, who refuses to give up her desperate search.

The bond between the pair has a certain “Peter Ibbetson” quality: though separated, they know they’re thinking of each other, dreaming of each other, yet where to search, and who will help? The cusp-of-puberty love between the two protagonists (in the movie they’re 13 and 14) has an urgency that takes hold, adding significantly to the desire for safety. While the fairy tale parallels are the most obvious, the directors also emphasize links with the myth of Persephone, whose mother Demeter wandered in desperate search for her kidnapped daughter. Through no coincidence, the town where the film was shot, Troina, is not far from Lake Pergusa, where Hades abducted Persephone and through whose waters he brought his prize down to the underworld.

Unsurprisingly, underwater shots also figure throughout the movie, along with the late autumnal forest, with its troubling hints of Little Red Riding Hood. Bigazzi’s masterful lensing brings out all these evocations without fetishizing anything, adding disturbing layers to the horrific reality of the kidnapping. Nino (Andrea Falzone), one of Luna’s peers briefly helping her search, remarks that Sicily was once the playground of the gods, and perhaps the island should be left to the animals again. What’s not verbalized, but implied, is that this paradise is populated by ghosts and we, the living dead, have been all too willing to let those ghosts vanish.

Film Review: 'Sicilian Ghost Story'

Reviewed at Cannes (Critics’ Week — opener), May 18, 2017. Running time: 125 MIN.

Production: (Italy-France-Switzerland) A BIM Distribuzione (in Italy), Jour2fête (in France), Filmcoopi Zurich (in Switzerland) release of an Indigo Film, Cristaldi Pics production with Rai Cinema, Mact Prods., JPG Films, Ventura Film, RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera, with the participation of Aide Aux Cinémas du Monde, CNC, Institut Français. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima, Carlotta Calori, Massimo Cristaldi. Executive producer: Francesco Tatò. Co-producers: Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli, Walter Bortolotti.

Crew: Directors, writers: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza, inspired by the story “Un cavaliere bianco” by Marco Mancassola. Camera (color, widescreen): Luca Bigazzi. Editor: Cristiano Travaglioli. Music: Soap&Skin, Anton Spielmann.

With: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallari, Andrea Falzone, Federico Finocchiaro, Lorenzo Curcio, Vincenzo Amato, Sabine Timoteo, Filippo Luna, Baldassare Tre Re, Rosario Terranova, Gabriele Falsetta, Vincenzo Crivello, Corrado Santoro, Nino Prester. (Italian dialogue)

More Film

  • UGC Distribution Closes on Mariano Cohn’s

    Ventana Sur: UGC Distribution Closes Market Hit ‘4 x 4’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — UGC Distribution has beaten out all other suitors to clinch what had became by Friday morning the most anticipated deal of this year’s Ventana Sur market: All rights to France on Argentine Mariano Cohn’s “4 x 4,” sold by Latido Films and distributed throughout Argentina by Disney. After mounting speculation about which [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Film News Roundup: 'Aquaman' Hits $152 Million at International Box Office

    In today’s film news roundup, “Aquaman” has already grossed more than $150 million outside the U.S., Michael Masini joins “Birds of Prey,” and Freestyle buys the documentary “Shamanic Trekker.” BOX OFFICE More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Warner Bros.’ tentpole “Aquaman” has taken in $152 million overseas in 36 markets, [...]

  • 'Winter's Night' Review: Enigmatic, Offbeat Korean

    Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night'

    There are thousands of films about love’s beginning, and a great many about love’s end. But far fewer deal with a relationship’s late-middle: the spreading, sluggish delta of coupledom when decades of familiarity, if they have not bred contempt, at least threaten irritation. “Winter’s Night,” Jang Woo-jin’s playfully melancholic third feature, after the acclaimed “A [...]

  • Tomasz Kot UTA

    UTA Signs ‘Cold War’ Star Tomasz Kot (EXCLUSIVE)

    UTA has signed “Cold War” star Tomasz Kot. He has appeared in more than 30 films and 26 plays as well as dozens of television series. More Reviews Tallinn Film Review: 'Winter's Night' TV Review: 'Vanity Fair' Most recently, Kot has received award-season buzz for his starring role as Wiktor in Pawel Pawlikowski’s feature “Cold [...]

  • Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening

    Kenneth Branagh's 'All Is True' Opening Palm Springs Film Festival

    The 30th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will open on Jan. 3 with historical drama “All Is True,” starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen. Branagh, who will be in attendance at the opening night screening, directed from Ben Elton’s script about the little-known period in the final years of William Shakespeare. Branagh [...]

  • Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies

    Actor and Activist Rodney Kageyama Dies at 77

    Actor, activist and influentials member of the Japanese American community, Rodney Kageyama, died in his sleep Dec. 9. He was 77. The SAG member was known for roles in “Karate Kid IV” with Hillary Swank, Ron Howard’s film “Gung Ho” and the spinoff sitcom, and the TV movie “Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes” with Max [...]

  • Most Popular Films 2018: The Best

    9 Holiday Gift Ideas Inspired by This Year's Most Popular Films

    From superheroes to super nannies, 2018 was a year full of memorable characters — and memorable movies. Whether you’re a big film buff, an avid follower of a popular franchise, or have a couple movie fans in your life, here are nine gifts that capture the fun of some of this year’s biggest films. 1. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content