- Sicilian Ghost Story (2018)
Two worlds collide in the reimagination of the Mafia kidnapping story, handcrafted with hindsight and immersive creativity by an Italian directorial duo Grassadonia-Piazza in Sicilian Ghost Story.
One of the most famed painters of Romanticism, Caspar David Friedrich, once advised, “Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards. A picture must not be invented but felt. The heart is the only true source of art, the language of a pure, child-like soul.” However, your eyes will stay wide open as the directorial duo Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza unpack everything that these words embody with confidence and unique perspective. Their musings on the nature of the dream and spiritual connection laced with physical experience in their new film submerge the audience into an unforgettable reinvention of a true story.
The story that the film reimagines is based on real events: in 1992, the Mafia kidnapped Giuseppe Di Matteo to force his father, a key witness in the prosecution case, to retract his statement. But although anchored in sickening events, the plot takes a thought-provoking, respectful twist by dipping into the world of surrealism. The re-imagined story echoes Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labirynth, filling the real world with psychic, mystic events. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl Luna, who is bewitched with Giuseppe and determined to find him despite the secrecy maintained by the grown-ups, it calls out to the mysterious world beyond the realm of the logic.
Both in the visual techniques and storytelling, the film upholds a web of parallels, two different words connected to each other by the passages that can be found only by those who pay attention. The film’s co-directors uphold a strong, consistent vision that plays with the fluidity of film genres and unpacks the events while translating the mystery invisible to the naked eye to a sequence of stunning visuals. The teenage romance, Italian bucolic landscape and no-nonsense ideas of daily life are pitted against the inaction of adults, grisly world of crime and gothic surrealism powered by the intuition. The symbolism is rife, and the differences are well reflected in cinematography that takes one’s breath away. Bright stretches of picturesque Sicilian landscapes take on a brand-new meaning when the night falls, representing two different areas of the human psyche, or two states of the world: the physical and the supernatural.
As Luna deals with her own feelings and Giuseppe gets used to his life in captivity, the boundary between the reality and phantasmagoria blurs, creating a hazy rendition of the events that evokes a darkly spin on a fairy-tale. The film uses the notion of a dream as a way to question how we see reality – our own perception of the events that we project onto events to give them meaning and understand the world that surrounds us when all of the clues are not within our reach. The newcomers Julia Jedlikowska and Gaetano Fernandez in the leading roles embody the innocence, dramaticism, lovesickness and emotional connection ingrained in the story.
The cinematographer Luca Bigazzi serves us a meditative, symbolic, sensual experience that immerses us with every frame. The broad colour palette – through the sunny days by the lake to the dirty underground cells devoid of light – sets the tone, bringing out the waves of intertwining melancholia and happiness. Nothing is ever one-dimensional: there’s heartache in the plain daylight and hope in the murky underwater sceneries. The pacing allows us to take it all in: at two hours of runtime, the film has enough time to introduce us to the events and create a broad landscape of emotion. The film is also fascinated with motion and uses it to strike hard: it might be calm on the surface, but it’s never steady. Everything flows, Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, said centuries ago; it is rare to find a better sensory depiction of these two words than the contemplative harmony, the unity of opposites artfully crafted by the movie.
Reminiscent of a story lifted from the 18th-century ballads with a spectacular modern spin, the forces of nature become the connecting power which reveals mysteries that the humans try to hide away. Sicilian Ghost Story has all the essential components of it, and it unequivocally brings these gothic supernatural stories to mind. With its respectful treatment of the story, a sensory experience engrained in visuals and sound design, and dreamlike vision that pulls us in with its innate force, it’s a film best experienced in a dark cinema auditorium, made to be seen on the big screen.
Sicilian Ghost Story opened in the UK cinemas and on-demand video platforms on the 3rd of August 2018.