Released: 3rd August 2018
Directors: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
Cast: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallari, Vincenzo Amato, Sabine Timoteo
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Films occasionally deliver something entirely unexpected. This means they linger in the memory long after other, more conventional films have faded. Sicilian Ghost Story is one of those films. Despite what you may assume from the title, this is not a traditional horror tale; think Guillermo del Toro rather than Wes Craven. So don’t expect jump scares and gore of any kind. Set in small town Italy, during an indistinct time period (although clearly a pre-mobile phone era) two young teenagers form a close bond, which hold strong even after one mysteriously goes missing. The local community and Police appear to do little in order to find the missing child and as time starts to drift, it seems they may be lost forever.
Twelve year old Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) has a crush on her classmate Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) a boy whom her mother has told her not to associate with. Obviously ignoring her mother’s instructions, Luna follows her heart and the pair share an afternoon together, Luna eventually giving Giuseppe the love note she has written for him. Shortly after, Giuseppe goes missing and Luna seems to be the only one concerned with discovering where or how he is. When she visits his house, she finds his distraught silent mother and his stern grandfather, who warns her never to come back again. With the passion and single mindedness that characterizes a child, Luna does not let the matter rest and along with her friend Loredana, (Corinne Musallari) she sets out to create as much noise as possible about the missing Giuseppe.
In the meantime, the truth of what has happened to Giuseppe is revealed, adding a stark layer of reality to the fairytale like story that is initially presented. To reveal too much about Giuseppe’s disappearance would spoil the viewers enjoyment of the film, which unfolds as part fable, part coming of age tale and part crime drama. Shot with an overall ethereal feeling, the film is about the emotional connection between the two young lovers and the strength of spirit that they share. Despite their separation and the obvious danger that Giuseppe is in, they reach out to each other in an otherworldly form; beautifully crafted underwater moments conveying both the beauty and the horror that lie at the heart of the tale.
The children’s performances aside, the adult characters are equally intriguing. Luna’s parents clearly want the best for her although her mother (a brilliant Sabine Timoteo) seems incapable of showing her daughter emotion and love. This in itself makes her attachment to her father (Vincenso Amato) and Giuseppe all the stronger. As Luna’s frustration and desire grow, her own health suffers and the longer Giuseppe is away, the less chance there is of his return. Rebellion turns serious for Luna and you become more concerned for both her and Giuseppe’s safety.
Interestingly, directing and writing duties are shared between collaborators Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia, whose previous film was the Sicilian set Salvo in 2013. Clearly the pair work well together and they have crafted a thoughtful and poignant take on a tale often told. But that’s not to say the film flawless. Whilst it is very carefully paced, it does feel slow in paces and may have benefited from a slightly shorter running time. It also challenges the expectations of style and theme, so many not appeal to everyone. However, if you can put your questioning mind to one side and allow the film to unravel itself before you, it rewards with a tragic yet uplifting slice of cinema which happily deserves a repeat viewing.
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