Sicilian Ghost Story – VIFF 2018 Review

Newcomer Julia Jedlikowska wonderfully portrays the naive, tender, and somewhat somnambulistic teen Luna, who pines for and later will try to extricate her dreamy classmate Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez, also making his screen debut), in Italian directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s haunting, rhythmic and slowburning new movie, Sicilian Ghost Story.

Early on in this hard-hearted fable of adults brutally infringing upon and upsetting the idyll of adolescence, the spirit of Nicolas Roeg’s chilling 1973 film Don’t Look Now is evoked, particularly as Luna dons a red duffle coat à la Red Riding Hood, and kindly sets forth to tame the dark wilderness in search of her missing friend.

Themes of lost children, waking nightmares and deep depictions of grief and loss dominate the picture, like Roeg’s, though both films differ in their chronological unraveling and point of view. Grassadonia and Piazza are much more focussed on a “babe in the woods”-style perspective, whereas Roeg viewed his beguiling lens on a more mature objectivity.

Inspired by a shocking real-life incident involving a teen’s 1996 abduction and murder by the Sicilian Mafia –– the teen’s father was a cooperating witness –– Sicilian Ghost Story casts a spectral and often ghastly glow over the artfully slow-to-unfold tragedy. Luna shares a psychic connection to Giuseppe, or so it seems, and his absence from school provokes in her visions and waking fantasies of “things that might exist”, including his ghostly form.

Like a Disney heroine the enchanted wilderness reveal several secrets to her, including bewitched brushes with butterflies, bunnies, ferrets, and frightening, frothing dogs gone mad. Elegantly photographed by the brilliant cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (The Great Beauty [2013], Youth [2015]), this is a chimera-like film, hypnotic, and languidly seductive, while remaining shockingly grim. For Luna, a happy ending is evidenced, but for Giuseppe, sanctuary is a star distance away.

Taste of Cinema rating 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.