Cannes 2017: Grassadonia and Piazza’s Sicilian Ghost Story

On Film / The Daily — May 21, 2017

“In Sicilian Ghost Story, co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s superb follow-up to 2013’s Critics’ Week prizewinner Salvo, the duo evocatively interweave the richness of fairy tales with the obscenity of Mafia control,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. “Based on the 1993 kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, held by the Mafia for 779 days in the hopes of silencing his informant father, the film invents a classmate with a crush who refuses to sweep Giuseppe’s disappearance under the rug. Her bond with the kidnapped boy, manifested through fairy tale symbols—a forest, a cave, animals, a lake—seamlessly dovetails with reality, drawing to the surface the anguish of a lost life together with the disgraceful fact that we as a society allow ourselves not to be haunted by acts of inhumanity.”

“A good deal of the film rests on the performances of the two newcomers,” finds Allan Hunter in Screen. “Julia Jedlikowska invests Luna [the classmate] with a burning ferocity. She has all the temper and sense of injustice of a teenager coping with her transition to adulthood and with a mother that couldn’t possibly understand what she is experiencing. Gaetano Fernandez has a natural charm and vulnerability as Giuseppe. The only misjudged performance comes from Sabine Timoteo whose severe, mannered work as Luna’s spectacularly unsympathetic mother seems to belong to a more florid horror story.”

“Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi masterfully conjures up the duality of nature as both a hostile environment of weeds, wires and stones and a magical forest filled with ferrets, owls and butterflies,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “A mysterious lake becomes the doorway to a hidden world where Luna envisions Giuseppe in captivity—but also a metaphysical space where his bones return to the earth.”

Sicilian Ghost Story is not without its problems,” finds Marc van de Klashorst of the International Cinephile Society, but it does prove that “Salvo was not a fluke.” At the same time, desistfilm co-editor Mónica Delgado finds that the new film doesn’t quite measure up to that feature debut.

At Cineuropa, Camillo De Marco suggests that “the mafia is the dark fairy tale that haunts every Sicilian, a collective repressed memory. Indeed, if Sicilian Ghost Story has a flaw, it is perhaps the directors’ excessive generosity and need to communicate this condition.”

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