Sicilian Ghost Story

 

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Enormously individual, technically brilliant yet too elusive to satisfy.


Sicilian Ghost Story

  

Despite my low rating, this film contains some of the most interesting work by a director that I have seen this year. In point of fact, Sicilian Ghost Story is the work of two directors since that credit is shared by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza. Both were born in Palermo and have used Sicily as the setting for each of their feature films to date, 2013's Salvo and now this one. Given the context, it is hardly surprising that the Mafia should play a role in both of these works but, if Salvo developed as a very individual dramatic tale, Sicilian Ghost Story goes much further.

 

The filmmakers acknowledge that they found their inspiration this time in a real-life tragedy: the kidnapping of schoolboy Giuseppe Di Matteo in 1993 by inept Mafia men who hoped that their action would halt the revelations of his father, one of their number who had turned supergrass. It appears that the author Marco Mancassola wrote a story drawing on this incident but chose to add a supernatural element. In their film, Grassadonia and Piazza take this notion to another level. Indeed their film's very title prepares us for something very different from a standard work involving the Mafia. However, it does suggest the introduction into the plot of a ghost and that is misleading for, in mixing realistic drama with elements of fable and fantasy, the film creates a piece that belongs to no clear category. In addition, this is a youthful love story and, although the sinister, stylised tone initially evokes thoughts of another Italian film (2015's Tale of Tales), the nearest parallel turns out rather unexpectedly to be with a recent animated film from Japan, Your Name (2016).

 

With a considered use of music, Sicilian Ghost Story at once creates a dark world in which nature and animals take on an unsettling character, after which it moves into realism to show the growing friendship between 12-year-old Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) and 13-year-old Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez), a relationship disapproved of by Luna's parents. But then Giuseppe disappears and, in scenes that soon lead us back into the tone of a dark fairy tale, Luna seeks to discover what has happened to the boy she loves. In her quest, Luna enters an underwater world and dreams bring the two youngsters together.

 

Unfortunately, over a running length close to two hours, Sicilian Ghost Story becomes increasingly elusive and, despite the fact that this debut reveals that Julia Jedlikowska has great presence, the strangeness of the piece increasingly reduces us to the role of detached and indeed perplexed viewers. In the end, regardless of the novelty of the piece, it's a very unsatisfying experience, but what cannot be denied is that Sicilian Ghost Story looks great. It's not just the high quality of Luca Bigazzi's colour photography but the imaginative use by the directors of the 'Scope format, be it through masterly close-ups or by images that turn the screen space involved to wonderfully atmospheric advantage. Technically this is great filmmaking, but for me at least the concept behind this tale is too ill-defined, its rules too uncertain, to bring the story properly into focus.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallari, Andrea Falzone, Federico Finocchiaro, Lorenzo Curcio, Vincenzo Amato, Sabine Timoteo.

 

Dir Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, Pro Massimo Cristaldi, Carlotta Calori, Francesca Cima and Nicola Giuliano, Screenplay Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, from a story by Marco Mancassola in the book Non Saremo Confusi per Sempre, Ph Luca Bigazzi, Art Dir Marco Dentici, Ed Cristiano Travaglioli, Music Anton Spielman.

 

Cristaldi Pictures/Indigo Film/MACT Productions/Ventura Film/JPG Film-Altitude Film Distribution.
114 mins. Italy/France/Switzerland/USA. 2017. Rel: 3 August 2018. Cert. 15
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