Sicilian Ghost Story (4 stars)

Sicilian Ghost Story

Ambitious take on a tragic true-life tale, from the directors of Salvo

The reality of Mafia retribution melds with gothic-flavoured romantic fantasy in Sicilian Ghost Story, an ambitious, intriguing second feature from Salvo directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza.

Based on true events, the film unfolds in 1993 as teenager Giuseppe Di Matteo (Gaetano Fernandez) is kidnapped in an attempt to convince his father not to testify against the Mafia. A wary public grows indifferent to his fate as his classmate Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) becomes increasingly determined to discover what has happened to him. The fervour of her commitment to Giuseppe manifests itself in an almost supernatural connection with the captive boy. A letter from Luna becomes his one solace after weeks of being held in chains.

Together, the couple are depicted as a latter-day Romeo and Juliet and fairytale references are threaded throughout – from a magical forest to an enchanted lake. Luna's wardrobe of a scarlet duffel coat and red jacket underlines the Little Red Riding Hood connection. Perhaps the Mafia are the big bad wolf.

The cinematography and sound design combine to create a heightened sense of the sinister, where every soft breath of wind or crackle of twigs signals danger, and the blinding Sicilian sunlight is a mask for the darkest of deeds. It is nothing if not atmospheric and immersive.

Jedlikowska invests Luna with a fiery intensity. Her burning sense of injustice ably reflects a youngster convinced that nobody could truly understand what she is experiencing, especially her spectacularly unsympathetic mother. Fernandez's vulnerable Giuseppe is a natural charmer. Both newcomers are impressive, lending conviction to the central relationship and making us care about the characters

Although Sicilian Ghost Story is overlong and often challenging in its fusion of styles, it remains a touching testimony to the power of love in a climate of cruelty.

Selected release from Fri 3 Aug.

Sicilian Ghost Story

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Italy
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
  • Cast: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, Corinne Musallari

A Mafia kidnapping is retold as a supernatural fantasy. This ambitious, genre-blending take on a true story is challenging and overlong, but its atmospheric cinematography effectively portrays a climate of cruelty and a heightened sense of the sinister.