If Salvo wasn’t enough of a powerhouse debut to shine a light on the murky world of the mafia, award-winning film-makers and co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza have a new offering, Sicilian Ghost Story. This is more of a coming-of-age love story and more expertly layered. It still retains that mystical, almost supernatural quality that the pair alludes to. It also has one of the most shockingly brutally but captivating scenes witnessed in a long time.
Based on the real-life Italian crime story of the abduction and subsequent murder of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, son of a Mafioso turned police informant, the story follows classmate Luna’s (exciting newcomer Julia Jedlikowska) lovelorn quest to get to the bottom of what happened to Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez). Her determination absorbs her adolescent years. Her obsession is of great concern to her parents, particularly her strict mother who wants to keep off the authorities – and mafia’s – radar.
Set in the idyllic Sicilian countryside the film has a mesmerizing, innocent, dream-like quality to it from the start – much like a ‘Sicilian Twilight’, where young love can flourish away from harsh realities. It is this false sense of security that flows into a greater estuary of foreboding caused by an evil entity that is very much part of the local culture and fabric of the landscape. There is even a scene where with question the true existence of a building. However, when the menace proves too great for our young leads, the film-makers allow their characters a supernatural ‘retreat’, where youth can achieve anything and solve all problems adults seemingly can’t or won’t.
What keeps the whole beautifully crafted affair grounded is the stone-cold reality of Joseph/Giuseppe’s demise, played out as imprisonment scenes of varying brutality and psychological abuse. This finally climaxes in the powerful ‘cleansing’ scene, truly repulsive (and stomach churning) as it is beguiling to watch nature taking its course. This scene runs for quite some time to ensure the full impact hits home.
At the same time, the film-makers are not caught up portraying the morose, allowing moments of reflection and ‘escapism’ to blend all the emotions felt whilst watching. Indeed, out of despair a young adult life is born, so the film has a surprising upbeat quality to it, even after the ugliness of the crime grip-hold in this region lingers on.
It is this clever blending of truth and fiction that allows Grassadonia and Piazza to tackle the narrative’s horrors while keeping us entranced and guessing. This leaves us with some sense of optimism that good can prevail over something ongoing and sinister. Sicilian Ghost Story just triumphs in this, both technically and artistically.