Sicilian Ghost Story is a bold, fantastical take on the real life tale of the kidnapping and murder of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the son of ex-Mafia member turned informant Santino Di Matteo.
It’s a beautifully depicted tragedy and a cry of rage against inaction in the face of injustice.
To tell the story of Giuseppe the director and writer have created Luna—his classmate and girlfriend.
In their early teens, both Giuseppe and Luna make for interesting subjects. Luna’s perspective provides contrast to the bleakness of the tale. It also allows the story of Giuseppe to be told free from the shadow cast by his father’s dark and violent past.
Santino was part of a crew who blew up an anti-Mafia judge. Giuseppe’s story is usually told as a subsidiary one to his father’s.
The film depicts the real story from Giuseppe’s perspective. He is kidnapped by Mafia pretending to be police taking him to see his father—which happened in real life.
Giving evidence, one of the actual kidnappers said, “To the kid’s eyes we appeared like angels, but in reality we were devils.
“He was really happy, he kept saying, ‘My father, my dear father’”.
The horror when Giuseppe realises he has been tricked is palpable in the film.
In this story, the involvement of the Mafia in the kidnapping earned the silent complicity of those in a small Italian town. However, Luna does not simply accept it and rebels against the wall of silence.
Her search for the truth alienates her from her family, but also from her friend who initially supported her. Teachers at the school she and Giuseppe attended do not respond when she asks where he has gone. Her mother is equally unsympathetic.
Forced to fight alone, she gets institutionalised in the process.
Luna’s retreat into a fantasy world is a reaction to the silence of those who she is told to respect
Although the film deals with exceptional circumstances, the viewer gets a sense of the impact of trauma has on individuals’ mental health. The suffocating pressure of small town life is well portrayed and used to ramp up the tension.
When she challenges the police her mother explains, “My daughter was recently hospitalised for treatment… of a psychological nature.” On the one hand we see the brutal treatment of Giuseppe, on the other the inaction of a town of people.
Fear of the Mafia runs through life—from Luna’s father to the police and even to her friend who she thought would help her. It’s the thing which anchors everything in the story, and the thing which Luna rebels against. Her crime is to say what no one else will, to shout against the silence.
The film flits between reality and fantasy. The fantasy allows viewers to believe in the possibility of a different version of the truth. One of the lines—“If you dream something, it means it might exist”—exemplifies this.
Luna’s retreat into a fantasy world is a reaction to the silence of those who she is told to respect.
Although this is an Italian language film, non-speakers need not worry about losing out—this film’s great strength is its striking imagery.
Sicilian Ghost Story blurs the lines between fantasy and reality and is a powerful warning against silence and complicity.