Giuseppe Di Matteo may not ring many bells in the UK, but he does in Italy. Giuseppe was the boy imprisoned for 779 days by the Sicilian mafia so they could blackmail his father. It is this story that Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza tell, but not in a traditional manner.
The film focuses on teenager Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) who realises that she is head over heels in love with Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) before he is taken away. Luna cannot cope with her anger and heartbreak. It sounds like a stroppy young love flick, and there are a couple of moments where it feels like that, but it is much more.
This is not a supernatural or fantasy film outright. It is a drama about kidnap, secrecy and growing up, with fantastical elements thrown in. A hypnotic score and some surreal sequences maintain a sense of magic about Sicilian Ghost Story without ever superimposing themselves on the matter at hand. It’s an array of surprises and character introspections that take their time to manifest completely, but prove an inspired way for the directors to go about their business.
It takes around an hour for the fantasy to reveal itself, the first half of the film being more focused on establishing relationships and the kidnap itself. This could easily be dull as dishwater, but Grassadonia and Piazza’s script finds plenty to get its teeth into before the pair’s imagination rears its head completely. As such, it doesn’t feel like a film of two halves. Instead it progresses naturally. Not easy with a drama doing things as differently as this one does.
Luna is prisoner to images of Giuseppe’s spirit and her own deteriorating emotional state. As it reaches breaking point, both Luna and Giuseppe’s torment are presented in increasingly abstract ways. It is often unclear if this is actually happening or if it’s all in Luna’s head. It may even be a mix of the two. This means that what is already an interesting story becomes ever more watchable, unfurling as Sicilian Ghost Story progresses and going increasingly beyond what you would expect.
All the cast give incredibly committed performances. Jedlikowska cuts a sincere but fragile figure who must grieve while dealing with a stern mother and increasing alienation from her friends. It’s a very impressive and believable performance from the young actress, and the chemistry between her and Fernandez feels tragically real.
Sicilian Ghost Story is entrancing. It tells a story that should never be forgotten in a way nobody watching will forget. While it sags slightly under its two-hour running time, it merits repeat viewing and leaves a lasting impact on your idea of how people deal with their darkest hours.
SICILIAN GHOST STORY / DIRECTORS: FABIO GRASSADONIA, ANTONIO PIAZZA / SCREENPLAY: FABIO GRASSADONIA, ANTONIO PIAZZA / STARRING: JULIA JEDLIKOWSKA, GAETANO FERNANDEZ, CORINNE MUSALLARI, ANDREA FALZONE, FREDERICO FINOCCHIARO / CERT: 15 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW