Sicilian Ghost Story – Film Review by Aisling Foster
Directors: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
Writers: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
Stars: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallar
This film was inspired by the real life kidnapping in 1996 of a twelve-year-old boy who was held by the Mafia for two years. So far, so grim. Yet in the hands of co-directors, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza (Salvo, 2013 Cannes Grand Prix) his story has been spun into a modern fairy tale, a brilliant recasting of two young innocents torn apart by a cruel adult world.
Twelve year old Luna and the empty-headed Giuseppe live in a Sicilian village beside a huge forest. When they declare their love for one another, everything looks rosy. For her, it hardly matters that his family are powerful members of the Mafia, able to provide their son with everything he could wish for, from a shiny Vespa (which he rides without arrest, despite being under-age) to his own horse. By contrast, Luna’s family are poor and disapprove of the friendship. She ignores their warnings until, at the end of a happy afternoon spent together, Giuseppe disappears without trace. Frantic with worry, Luna scours the village, only to be thrown out of his house by the boy’s distraught parents and met by the blank faced stares of police and school teachers.
In fact, Giuseppe’s father has turned supergrass and is currently informing the police about the island’s organised crime. Everyone in the village knows that his son will not be released until his cooperation is withdrawn. Chained to a bed, the boy at first waits and hopes, buoyed up by Luna’s love letters which he has kept hidden since the day he was captured. Meanwhile Luna widens her search. Despite every attempt to dissuade her, she explores ever deeper into the forest and around a nearby lake, convinced that Giuseppe is being held somewhere in the area by her Mafia neighbours. Through it all, brilliant camera work casts an unreal light over every scene, merging truth and imagination in the two children’s highly coloured dreamscapes.
As time passes, Giuseppe’s world darkens to despair. By contrast, Luna grows more angry, the lives half glimpsed in the enchanted wood only increasing the fantasies within her own head. Her sweet face, turning gradually from innocence to a kind of adult knowing, exerts a mesmerising effect. Played by Julia Jedikowska, she leads the film through every magical twist and turn, confronting characters and tropes from classic fairy tales – including wicked parents and a Sleeping Beauty awakening – which should keep scholars of that literary genre guessing to the end.