Starkly beautiful, haunting and touching, “Sicilian Ghost Story” is an Italian “Endless Love,” a tale of first love and the fantasies that spin out of that when the one you’re smitten with goes missing.
Filmmakers Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza have found an arresting setting, a chilling true story and a dreamy, surreal way of approaching it in this serene and unsettling thriller.
Julia Jedlikowska is Luna, a 14 year-old with a crush on Guiseppe (Gaetano Fernandez), a sensitive, handsome and apparently rich boy from school.
She writes him love notes and they flirt in the woods on the way home. His teasing is age-appropriate, but prophetic.
“You’re not going to regret this, are you?”
He’s no sooner impressed her with his equestrian skills in the family corral, when he’s whisked away. Luna is so over the moon that she’s not quite sure what happened, but we’ve seen the cars with flashing blue lights in the background as she walks home.
Luna’s lovesickness amps up her teen revolt against her icy Swiss mother (Sabine Timoteo), but not her indulgent diabetic Dad (Vincenzo Amato). Her classmate Loredana (Corinne Musallari), the one she swaps flashlight Morse code messages, hillside home to opposite hillside home, is her only confidante.
And she needs Lore. Because Guiseppe isn’t at school. Days turn into weeks and Luna’s obsession only grows.
What happened to him? Why does his family not answer the door, or worse, chase her away? Tearful embraces from the boy’s mother are broken up, threats from Guiseppe’s grandfather are muttered.
“We’ve got nothing to do with those people,” her own mom warns (in Italian with English subtitles). “Don’t make the same mistake as me.”
Something happened involving Guiseppe’s dad. The word “supergrass” crosses some people’s lips.
And then we see what happened to Guiseppe as the film shifts to his point of view. And it’s not a pretty scene.
What’s Sicily known for? Aside from pizza?
“Sicilian Ghost Story” plays out as a teen girl’s “Catcher in the Rye” fantasy about a love she’s never even kissed. In her dreams, she sees where he is, what happened and who did it. She can save him!
She and Loredana dye their hair blue and hand out “Where is Guiseppe?” flyers.
Time passes and Luna’s obsession only grows. In one telling moment, a hapless teacher stands by while the kids “sort” their conflicting loyalties and who gets Guiseppe’s empty desk. Knowing the people involved in his disappearance, it wouldn’t be safe to get too vocal about what happened and what’s really going on. Only Luna is brave enough to do that.
Young Jedilikowska makes Luna the sort of heroine we root for and fear for at the same time — fiery and furious, out of her depth, adamant that only she can solve this mystery and save her beloved, but losing her sanity by leaps and bounds.
The kidnapping half of the tale is all too-familiar in its cruelty and Italian state of hopelessness, and Fernandez brings a deflated despair to those scenes. Only in Luna’s mind, as she imagines him reading her plaintive love notes, is he allowed hope.
Movies set in Sicily are rare, and ones with this subject matter — cloaked in a “Ghost Story” or not — even rarer.
But Grassadonia and Piazza, who have teamed on Italian TV movies and the like, have used it to create a scenic, poetic, striking and moving thriller about Sicily’s “problem” viewed through the lens of youth and young love. The spooky overtones make its title an honest one, even if the frights are few. This is a “Ghost Story” well worth telling, and seeing.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sex, nudity, smoking and profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, based on a Marco Mancassola short story.
A Strand release.
Running time: 1:58