It strikes the heart with rage and pain: after their successful debut, Salvo, directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza are back to the Croisette with their latest work, Sicilian Ghost Story, opening film of the Semaine de la critique. Released today in Italian theatres thanks to Bim, the film is a black tale that tells one of the most heinous mafia stories: the long kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, a 13-year-old boy abducted in 1996 and then brutally killed in order to silence his father, a cooperating witness. In the words of the directors: “With all its terror and inhumanity, this is the episode that closes and sublimates the darkest season of Sicilian mafia.” The film’s cinematographer is Luca Bigazzi, while the script was inspired by Un cavaliere bianco, a short story by Marco Mancassola featured in the volume Non saremo confusi per sempre. “When we first read the short story, we immediately understood Marco’s deep intuition. He describes one of the most horrible facts in recent Italian history by putting reality and fiction on the same level. In this way, he somehow manages to redeem the victim.”

In Sicilian Ghost Story, when Giuseppe disappears, his classmate Luna is the only person who is not giving up on him, and rebels against the silence around her. In order to find him, she goes down the dark world that swallowed the boy, suspended between dream and reality. The narrative has the tones of a genre film – it is a love story, but also a dark tale and a ghost story – and proudly detaches from those films that tend to represent Sicily has an exclusively Mediterranean, exotic land, and in which the mafia narration has become repetitive and predictable. “Italy tends to overindulge with celebrations and makes the stories look all the same by watering down the extraordinariness of some facts using a predictable pop language. What in the past was a great cinema of civic stance has become entertainment. Our mission is to shake the viewer and force him to experience an emotional impact. In this sense, the use of the genre element is both a provocation and a political act aiming to involve the audience into something different.”

Luna is a big dreamer. She loves to draw and she can change reality through her dreams. In the film she says: “If you dream something, it means that this something might exist”. Julia Jedlikowska, young Palermo-based actress for the for first time on the big screen, states: “Playing this character gave me the chance to look at things differently. I didn’t know Giuseppe’s story, it is something nobody talks about, it’s kept hidden.” Saving this boy from the conspirancy of silence and forgetfulness is exactly the aim of the directors: “When we went to schools in Sicily to find our actors, we realized that nobody today knows this story. The places of the kidnapping are now abandoned, in some of them you can still find the seals. The only place that is somehow still open is the bunker where the boy was held captive and then killed. Today is a sort of garden of memory in which, shockingly, in order to remember that kid abducted for 779 days within four walls, they built up a claustrophobic architecture made of reinforced concrete and iron bars. It is difficult to reach this place and most of the times it is closed to visitors. It was like that also on the twentieth anniversary of Giuseppe’s death.”

The adults in the film are mostly negative characters: somehow they are all jailers. This can be said of Luna’s parents too, who want her to forget “for her own good”. As Grassadonia explains, “adults live in a schizophrenic dimension, the same we’ve lived in while growing up in Sicily. When I was a child, one day the sound a car bomb woke me up. Outside the window it looked like a war scene. That day, I was supposed to go on holiday with my family, to the seaside, and that’s what we did. They taught us to look the other way, because that was the only way to survive. Sicily has changed today, that brutality is now over. But mafia has not been defeated yet, so we need to think about the future and the chances we are giving to our kids.” As for the real jailers – who kidnapped the boy and, having no backup plan, decided to kill him – the directors wanted to depict them in all their meaninglessness, “because stupidity is a dimension that suits mafia stories”.