No segue. Don’t know anything about this movie, never saw a trailer for it, but I’m looking forward to returning to the Nuart theater, so I’m happy with that.
The story looks like it’s about a young girl. She has a crush on this boy that mysteriously disappears from school. She goes out to look for him and discovers that he’s been kidnapped and tries to rescue him.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez, and Corrine Musallari, all making their feature film debuts. Congrats, y’all.
Now for the crew. Co-writing and co-directing are Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Composing the score is Anton Spielmann, making his debut. Congrats, sir. The cinematographer is Luca Bigazzi, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Christiano Travaglioli, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, I have no idea what to make of this flick. Though I do think this has great potential to be a tremendously creepy film. I mean, it all depends whether or not that the two leads have actual chemistry and history with each other to warrant her looking for him and not relying on the local authorities to do their job. Because if none of that is addressed or showcased, then this movie is going to be pretty silly. Here’s hoping for the best because I used up my “three free movies a month” on MoviePass, so I’m going to essentially pay for this. Just… don’t suck, movie.
This is my honest opinion of: SICILIAN GHOST STORY
Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) is a twelve year old girl who has a huge crush on thirteen year old boy Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez). They have a budding little romance going until he doesn’t come to school one day. Then one day becomes many days. She begins to investigate where he’s been, and despite his family saying that he’s sick, she doesn’t realize that he’s been kidnapped by a group of corrupt police officers, due to Giuseppe’s father’s connections to the Mafia, and has been giving up names to the authorities. Luna makes desperate attempts to figure out what happened while trying to cope with life without him and no one caring as much as she does.
Mmph… I kind of wanted to like this flick, but… mmph, I’m still debating.
In any case, I think it’s important to reveal some important information. This is actually based on true events. According to the article that I’m reading right now, in November 1993, 11-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo was kidnapped by the Sicilian Mafia in order to silence his gangster father who was feeding information to the authorities, and held the boy over two years, eventually killing him and dissolved his body in acid to get rid of the evidence. As the filmmakers seem to say, the incident had a profound impact on Sicily as a whole, saying that, “It marked the horrible closing of the most horrible period of our history of the ‘80s and ‘90s.” The filmmakers continued by saying that “… it is often said that this child defeated Cosa Nostra.” The link to this can be found here:
In any case, this isn’t really about me saying anything about the true-crime event. This is about a movie.
Let’s start with the positives. Thank Christ almighty that I got my wish that Luna and Giuseppe knew each other. They were classmates in school and the feelings seemed to be mutual. He does, after all, initiate the first kiss between them. Admittedly, this was a very precious moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers caught the very first kiss on film, which happened to also be the very first kiss that either Jedlikowska or Fernandez shared in their lives. It was so quick, she retreated with that million dollar smile of hers, and oh god, I must be getting old with how adorable that was.
Also, for more than a few first-timers on the big screen, both Jedlikowska and Fernandez are actually pretty solid young actors. Together, they act like a cute couple. Alone, they still hold their own, especially Jedlikowska. While her character isn’t anything to write home about, there is a genuine sense of concern that she has for Giuseppe’s disappearance. There is a real sense of defiance against her mother who wants her to stop caring about him. There’s a wonderful scene where she shows up to the family dinner table, having colored her hair blue, something her overly strict mother would never allow. But while her mom is berating her, telling her that there’s better ways to rebel, Luna makes it clear that she’s trying to help find Giuseppe, and that even though she subtly knows it’s not doing that much, she’s trying to do something. She never raises her voice, but she cold-stares down her mom and I absolutely loved that. Or how about that scene where she confronts that boy who sits in Giuseppe’s desk? I love their exchange.
Look at this. She changes her hair color and
now she’s got an attitude.
I can wash out the color with shampoo. What’s
your excuse for your face?
Then he makes a mean comment that Giuseppe won’t be coming back and then Luna slaps him, he pushes her away, the teacher holds Luna back from continuing to attack the boy, then Luna’s best friend Lori (Corinne Musallari) comes up from behind the boy and, like a wrestling move, slams his face into the desk. It’s chaotic and awesome.
Even Fernandez has some really powerful moments. There’s a bit where he imagines writing to Luna and at some point says that he wants to cry, but refuses to give his kidnappers the satisfaction of seeing that. But a few moments later, he slinks into a dark corner where he disappears and starts crying. It’s hard to say if this is something happening in realtime or his imagination, but it’s nice that I don’t know, making the moment arguably more powerful. There’s another bit where he frantically tries to bury Luna’s letter. But just as it’s full submerged in dirt, he unburies it and holds it close to his chest. It’s like for a split second, he didn’t want a reminder of something beautiful out in the world that he may never see again, but then wanted it back to remind himself that there is beauty out there. There’s so much that someone could interpret in his actions and I love how it’s handled.
One of my favorite elements of the story is that you never really know who these bad guys are. The movie never explicitly says. All that’s really revealed is that they’re kidnapping him to get his turncoat father to stop collaborating with the police. Sure, they’re shown to have police jackets on, but there are possibilities. Are they corrupt cops? Are they Mafia dudes dressed as cops? It’s not made clear, and I like that. These scenes are from the perspective of a thirteen year old kid. I doubt he’s that attuned to what’s going on.
Oh, and by the way, there’s this cute little owl that Luna finds. I just want to say, that owl is a terrible actor. It’s so unprofessional to be looking at the camera. Career over before it ever began. Stupid bird. No, I’m not serious. That owl was adorable, but I do think it’s hilarious that it looks at the camera.
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ I have to admit, I do like just how tragic this movie can get. While Luna holds on to hope that she’ll see Giuseppe again and constantly tries to find him, she does eventually give up hope, and at the end of the story, she accepts that he’s gone. It’s likely that the lone boy she sees at the beach is a representation of her thinking about Giuseppe in Heaven. On the flipside to that coin, Giuseppe has always held on to the love letter that Luna gave him prior to his disappearance and, over time, grows to love her too toward the end of his life. When he’s first introduced, he’s a very practical thinker. Where Luna will see a group of stars as a Pegasus constellation, he’ll just see stars. He clearly doesn’t share the same feelings as her, but as the story continues, he learns to dream as Luna does. I like this juxtaposition that as she lets go of him, he’s clinging to the image her in his mind. He dies without her knowing that he loved her. A very well-tapestrated web of emotions. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
But now we have to discuss my issues with the story.
For as grim and morbid as this story can get, the movie throws in some really offbeat fairy tale moments. The story builds up Giuseppe as almost too perfect. I mean, the kid has a butterfly land on his hand. I’m surprised that he couldn’t get a bunch of birds to patch up that backpack that got thrashed by the wild dog via a song and dance number. I know this movie wanted to throw in a fantasy edge to this (which I’ll complain about later), but most of those fantasy moments aren’t real and simply dreams. This happened for real. Oh, and he totally saves her from that rabid dog too. And to add a candle to this sundae of implausibly perfect boys, he rides horses. Jesus Christ, I have no idea what the real Giuseppe was like, but something’s telling me he wasn’t… this.
And I feel like the more fantastical elements really didn’t work. I’m not referring to the dreams of them finding each other, that works fine. Luna clearly has an active imagination and would obviously dream about Giuseppe. The issue is that some of those dreams seem to be more like X-Men psychic moments. In a dream, she sees a house near a stream, or whatever, and that happens to be a fairly accurate location. Not the house, but the stream. Or how she sees “the Pig-Faced man” in her dream and actually recognizes him in real life, and that her father knew him from work, even though he has no idea what she’s talking about. It just feels like this movie was almost primed to make her a junior superhero by finding Giuseppe because of her psychic powers. Didn’t agree with that element to her character.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ While I’m totally down with the bittersweet ending of the film, there’s one element that I didn’t much like. There’s a nice and slow zoom-in shot of Luna laying down in a cave, watching her burning all of her Giuseppe memorabilia. The movie should have ended there. The cave already sort of comes out of nowhere and could have been a representation of Luna proverbially moving on with her life. But nope, Lori freaks out, sees her giant mosaic in her bedroom, and somehow finds Luna in a very real cave. Well… I guess this could have been interesting, because the next shot is of a heavenly-looking beach and her just staring off in the distance. I interpreted that as she killed herself in a very Romeo and Juliet fashion. Okay, I’m on board again, I’d be nice to see these two characters reunite in the afterlife. But nope, she’s hugged by her new boyfriend and her friends. They’re just… on some really nice beach. This… feels so contrived. It should have ended on the slow-zoom on her face in the cave, or that beach was Heaven and that’s where the two star-crossed lovers reunite. But nope, happy ending, and then “In loving memory of Giuseppe”. Damn it, this could have been such a, introspective ending, and instead… let’s go right for that crowd-pleasing happy ending. In a movie like this? Please, this didn’t seem like it was paving the way for that. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
I feel like I’m getting more and more intolerant toward films that are supposed to be about a real person, but ends up being too fictionalized. Not that I’m any particular expert on Giuseppe Di Matteo, but something’s telling me that this movie isn’t all that respectful. Consider, Di Matteo was murdered in the 90s. This movie takes place in modern times, as evidenced by the Super Saiyan Blue Goku action figure, which has only been a thing in the past couple years, so this movie isn’t even decade-accurate. Also, and possibly more insulting, the movie’s not even really about Giuseppe. Okay, the filmmakers dedicated this movie to the boy at the end of the movie, and yet the main character is a fictional character. Isn’t this sort of one of the big points of contentment for BIRTH OF THE DRAGON? That the movie wasn’t even about Bruce Lee, but rather some average white Joe that never existed? I know this movie is getting quite the buzz for having its quasi-fantasy elements, which would be fine if the story was fictional. But if you wanted to make an artsy-fartsy movie, that’s fine, more power to you. But leave the memory of some dead kid who, according to the filmmakers, lead to the dismantling of a notorious criminal organization out of it. For a story so seemingly important, the story isn’t even about the important kid. Or at least, he’s sidelined in his own story as a secondary character, and that doesn’t seem fair. The easiest fix for this is just change Giuseppe’s name in the movie. The movie is barely about him anyway. Out of respect for the Di Matteo family, I won’t act like some advocate and dock any points against this movie, as it’s very possible that they completely consented to this film and support it, but I just wanted to voice my own concerns.
Overall, this movie is… not bad. I can’t say that I agreed with every aspect of either the narration, or the artistic choices. With that said, the two young leads are quite good for being newcomers, hold up the movie just fine, some of the writing is really impressive, as well as the direction. On an unrelated note, I wish this movie was actually about Giuseppe, and not some fictional character. Solid enough movie, but as a story that tells the real story of this poor kid, I can’t say that I agreed with the method of storytelling chosen. As a recommendation, I still think it’s worth checking out. This movie is only playing in one theater even remotely near me, so finding it may be a challenge. If you can, yeah, I say it’s worth it. If you can’t, see if you can find it as a rental. It’s worth seeing, and it apparently revolutionized the Italian-Mafia genre of films… which is a thing over there, I guess… so maybe others will get more out of it than I did.
My honest rating for SICILIAN GHOST STORY: a strong 3/5
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