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In “Sicilian Ghost Story,” co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s superb follow-up to 2013’s Critics’ Week prizewinner “Salvo,” the duo evocatively interweave the richness of fairy tales with the obscenity of Mafia control. Based on the 1993 kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, held by the Mafia for 779 days in the hopes of silencing his informant father, the film invents a classmate with a crush who refuses to sweep Giuseppe’s disappearance under the rug. Her bond with the kidnapped boy, manifested through fairy tale symbols — a forest, a cave, animals, a lake — seamlessly dovetails with reality, drawing to the surface the anguish of a lost life together with the disgraceful fact that we as a society allow ourselves not to be haunted by acts of inhumanity. “Ghost Story” deserves a conspicuous place on international art-house screens.
Comparisons will be made with a host of other films using Brothers Grimm tropes, most of all “Pan’s Labyrinth” for the way it combined fairy tales with Spanish fascism, and yet Grassadonia and Piazza steer clear of mythical creatures or a magical place existing alongside our own. Their evocation of children’s fables is more grounded in real countryside, and thanks to Luca Bigazzi’s fluid expertise with low-angle shots and slightly distorting lenses, well-modulated while never gratuitous, the filmmaking doesn’t simply tell a story but makes us feel its impact.
Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) follows Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) into the woods after school, watching him marvel at a butterfly on his hand as she’s startled by a ferret sniffing at her heels. If it sounds precious in the retelling, it’s not — magical, sure, but not cloying, and not because the pair are then menaced by a dog who’s just been gnawing on a dead rabbit. Animals don’t talk in “Sicilian Ghost Story” but they do bear witness, like a reappearing small owl, which recalls the bird’s association with Hades and Ovid’s description of it as a “sad omen to mankind.”
Original title Ghost Stories
IMDb Rating 6.4 17,295 votes
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