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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Sicilian Ghost Story movie review: grim failing tale

Sicilian Ghost Story red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A cruel film that hopes to use its fantastical surreality to find some sort of redemption in the senseless, violent, and real-life abuse of a child. There is no magic here, and no meaning.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about girls and women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

In the 1990s, a 13-year-old boy was kidnapped by the mafia in Sicily in order to force his mobster father to stop cooperating with the police. He was held for a very long time, and the situation did not come to a pleasant end. The Italian writing-directing team of Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, for their second feature, took this terrible reality and transformed it into the nightmare that is Sicilian Ghost Story. (They were also partly inspired by a short fantasy story by Marco Mancassola.) This cruel film hopes to use its fantastical surreality to, I think, find some sort of redemption in the senseless and violent abuse of a child. That’s certainly a noble endeavor, but also surely an impossible one.

And so it is here: impossible. There is no magic here, no meaning. There is only the desperate, failed attempt to find some.

Sicilian Ghost Story gives the poor boy, Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez), a lovelorn girlfriend in 12-year-old Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), and posits a literally mystical connection between the two children that prompts her to agitate in their small town on Giuseppe’s behalf. You see, no one — not the school he is absent from, not the townspeople, not even his family — will even acknowledge that the boy has disappeared, never mind the horrific why of it. Luna’s stern mother (Sabine Timoteo) had forbidden her daughter to have any contact at all with Giuseppe, because of who his father is; Mom is utterly unsympathetic to Luna’s trauma.

The very young lovers...

The very young lovers…

So the girl screams at people a lot, and wanders — sometimes literally (maybe?), sometimes in dreams — their wooded island, looking for him. This goes on for so long that is becomes strained to the point of tediousness and psychological implausibility: Luna’s grief feels preposterous, which is itself a preposterous thing for a story that is all about an overabundance of sensitivity to do.

The preternatural aspect of Luna’s search is meant, it’s clear, to lend a tinge of the romantic — sweet, chaste, and age-appropriate, but still — to the young couple’s separation. Instead it builds to something that feels like the most problematic aspect of Romeo & Juliet being celebrated as a worthy thing, and worse, as the thing that somehow redeems Giuseppe’s experience. It’s appalling. There’s deliberate, provocative gruesomeness to be found here, but this is what turned my stomach.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.

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red light 1 star

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Sicilian Ghost Story (2018) | directed by Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza
US/Can release: Nov 30 2018
UK/Ire release: Aug 03 2018 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong threat, language, gore)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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