Tag Archives: Mafia

CAPSULE: SICILIAN GHOST STORY (2017)

O Fantasma da Sicília

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DIRECTED BY: Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza

FEATURING: Julia Jedlikowska, Gaetano Fernandez

PLOT: A dreamy 12-year old Sicilian girl loses her grip when her young beau disappears without explanation.

Still from Sicilian Ghost Story (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sicilian Ghost Story has drawn comparisons to Pan’s Labyrinth for it’s young protagonist using imagination to cope with harsh reality. It can’t live up to that (perhaps unfair) comparison, however.

COMMENTS: The sense of being in an an ancient land where myth and magic, though gone fallow, might spring into life again at any time is an animating spirit of Sicilian Ghost Story. An adolescent character even fantasizes about modernity fading away so he could see the frolicking nymphs and hear the notes from Pan’s flute from the Sicily of yore. Ruins of Roman temples on an outcropping over the beach where the teens play in the surf remind us that all traces of ancient world have not yet passed away.

But ancient gods are not the only spirits around. The mafia also haunts this Sicilian town. No one speaks of them directly, but Luna’s parents forbid the girl from seeing Giuseppe, who seems like a fine boy, because of dark hints about his father. When the boy stops coming to school, no one besides Luna brings it up. She hands out fliers with the Giuseppe’s face on them; tight-lipped, no one offers a lead.

So far, the movie has been a straight drama, a chaste tween love story with a hint of mystery, but then Luna’s visions kick in. As if touched by a prophecy sent from one of those ancient gods, Luna sees the vanished Giuseppe; later, she has a visions of a house, partially underwater. Some of her dreams may be actual clues to the boy’s whereabouts. Queasy pans, blurry screens, and confusion between what is happening inside and outside of Luna’s mind add a fog of disorientation.

The two young leads do an admirable job. The movie’s overall tone is low-key, elegiac, and more than a little depressing. It ultimately shoots for a sense of hope, although the best it can come up with is a life-goes-on shrug coupled with an imperative to not forget. Appropriately so, because, magical realist love story aside, Sicilian Ghost Story is based on a real-life kidnapping that scandalized Sicily in the 1990s.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the strangest and most creative films released so far this year… a dreamlike, sometimes downright disorientating experience sustained by a tender heart beating beneath harsh realism.”–Ross Miller, The National (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: TO DIE FOR TANO [TANO DA MORIRE] (1997)

DIRECTED BY: Roberta Torre

FEATURING: Ciccio Guarino, Mimma De Rosalia

PLOT: The movie tells the story of the life and death of Palermo mafioso Tano Guarrasi—and

Still from To Die for Tano (1997)

of the newfound freedom of his four ugly sisters who stayed spinsters because no man was brave enough to marry them—in song and dance.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It’s weird, but given its status as an almost completely unknown movie, it’s not quite outrageously outlandish enough to earn a spot on the List on the first ballot.  A musical production telling the life story of a contemptible macho bully in styles ranging from disco to “gangsta” rap would be strange enough, but director Roberta Torre adds in bizarre dream sequences involving dancing chickens and every 1970s LSD drug trip camera effect she can afford, and films the entire mess as if she’s the long-lost love child of Maya Deren and George Kuchar.  It’s rambunctious and the energy gets to you, but it’s held back by its extreme amateurism (bad singing and choreography can gets wearisome over an hour’s time), and also by the fact that no compelling story or characters ever emerge from the sketch-upon-sketch structure.  Still, it’s one of those movies you may want to track down just so you’ll have something to make your co-workers’ eyes bug out on Monday morning when you talk around the water cooler about what you watched over the weekend.  Recommended for those hunting the obscurest oddities, and anyone who reads this site regularly is likely to find it at least amusing.

COMMENTS:  There’s something gratifying about seeing Sicily’s murderous thugs depicted as a crew of mincing ninnies.  The fact that this gangster spoof is enacted by residents of the city that suffered during the mob’s gangland wars only adds to the elation; their open mockery of their criminal overlords feels brave and subversive, and transmutes the silliness into a strange sort of grandeur.  Though shot in 1997, Tano almost looks like a 1970s production, from the washed out color to the grotesque-looking amateur actors, cheap props and camera tricks, and general “pop avant-garde” feel of an Andy Warhol or John Waters production.  The story (based on real-life events) jumps about in time, usually for little obvious reason, and there are numerous digressions for flashbacks and the absurd musical numbers that are the film’s raison d’être.  The translator earns extra credit for rendering all the songs in rhyme, especially since that practice often results in odd-sounding couplets like “I’ll beat up guys Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: TO DIE FOR TANO [TANO DA MORIRE] (1997)