Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sicilian Ghost Story: It is and It Isn’t

Forget about The Godfather, the book and movie, as well as any other form of popular entertainment that suggests the Mafia abides by a code of honor. There was nothing honorable about the abduction and murder of twelve-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo. He was the son of a Mafia informant held for over 700 days, who wasted away to nearly nothing before his captors finally strangled him and broke down his body in a vat of acid. The true crime that outraged Italy gets refracted through a lens of magical realism in Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza’s Sicilian Ghost Story (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Luna has it bad for Giuseppe—real bad. Despite his natural arrogance and his family’s considerable wealth, Giuseppe reciprocates her interest. Their budding couple-status has Luna on cloud nine, until Giuseppe stops coming to class. He is gone for days without any explanation from his family. She starts coming round his family’s villa, but his grandfather brusquely turns her way each time. Eventually, they have to come clean. Giuseppe has been kidnapped by the mafia, to force his father to recant his testimony.

Although the title is somewhat deceptive, there are indeed several kinds of ghosts in SGS. The longer Giuseppe is held incommunicado, while hope of his safe return steadily fades, the more frequently Luna experiences vivid and tactile visions and waking dreams of the much-abused lad. In fact, she starts to believe she has even physically interacted with him.

SCS has all the grit of recent, un-glamorized Mafia dramas, including The Sicilian Girl and Grassadonia & Piazza’s own Salvo, but it is subtler and much more visually striking. Some of the images they craft are just arrestingly tragic and beautiful. Soap Skin’s ambio-minimalist pop tune “Safe with Me” also perfectly underscores the film’s otherworldly and elegiac vibe.

Julia Jedlikowska is absolutely riveting as Luna. In many ways, she is a difficult kid to like, but her intensity and tenacity just blows everyone else off the screen. Gaetano Fernandez is mostly just okay as Giuseppe, but he has a truly devastating pseudo-soliloquy late in the film. Vicenzo Amato also has some nice scenes as Luna’s working-class father.

Throughout SGS, it is unclear whether Luna’s fugue interludes are merely subconscious reveries or legitimately supernatural. Grassadonia & Piazza maintain a sense of mystery regarding these and other aspects of the film. It is eerie and horrifying, regardless of genre distinctions.  Recommended for sophisticated viewers, especially those who appreciate cinematic fables, Sicilian Ghost Story opens this Friday (11/30), in New York, at the Quad Cinema.