Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: Sicilian Ghost Story

Directors: Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza


This film from directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza is set against the backdrop of one of the largest criminal trials in history. In early ‘90s Sicily, where, during the Maxi Trial (over 400 Sicilian Mafia members were prosecuted for numerous illegal activities), a man named Santino Di Matteo took part in the killing of a judge. Following the murder, he became a pentito – an informer to the government. In retaliation for his betrayal, the Mafia captured and tortured his son, Giuseppe, as a way of forcing him to retract his testimony.

These fascinating true events have been retold here through the eyes of 12-year-old Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), a schoolgirl who has fallen in love with Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez). Before his disappearance, we spend a very short amount of time with both of them together as she decides to share her love with him. From very early on, it’s clear that she has independence, an affinity with nature and a belief in the supernatural - all qualities that share a striking likeness to Ivana Baquero’s Ofelia from Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, there’s plenty of Guillermo Del Toro’s earlier work lurking in the background.

The mythical, fairy-tale themes in the film need complete acceptance from the viewer in order to engage in the story throughout its overlong running time. Luna and Giuseppe are separated early on but kept together through dreams and visions. The directors also deploy the use of a  hand-held camera to gaze at the characters from afar, increasing the feeling of ‘other forces’ being at play.

The acting is a strength of the film; Jedlikowska brings a fitting grave and somber edge to Luna, as she pushes her mother away with her infatuated teenage love for Giuseppe. In addition, cinematographer Luca Bigazzi - who also worked on the sumptuously shot The Great Beauty – has worked his magic again here by creating a distinctive, moody and spectral glaze, something that is needed to pull the film's dark undertones together. TS