One of the many insights in SJ Chiro's 2017 feature Lane 1974 is that childhood is always experienced like a fairy tale. And all true fairy tales are simply terrifying. There are wolves that want to eat children, witches that want to cook them, musicians that seduce them, and so on. So though there is nothing fantastic about the story in Chiro's film (a 13-year-old girl rebels against her hippie mother and embarks on a journey of self-discovery), the way it is filmed, its mood, its many numinous moments feel fairy-tale-like.
The same is true in Sicilian Ghost Story. The film, which received a 10-minute standing ovation at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and is set in the mid-1990s, is really about a 12-year-old girl, Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), who falls in love with a 13-year-old boy, Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez).
The girl comes from a middle-class family. The boy comes from an upper-class family. He is handsome, owns a gorgeous horse, and dresses like a little dandy. The girl has a rude and raw personality, but she loves the dashing Giuseppe with a passion that is supernatural.
Then he disappears. He stops coming to school or riding his dark horse near the Sicilian village. Where is he? Luna loses her mind looking and longing for him. Her heart is broken. She throws herself into a lake. But there is more to the story. The missing boy's father is tied to the Mafia. And so, on the surface, Sicilian Ghost Story is just another crime movie. But the work was filmed not like a thriller but like a terrifying fairy tale.
It is the fairy-tale mood that makes this movie special. There is the old and twisted tree deep in the woods, where all that shines is a sinister sun. There are the pagan ruins by the sea with all of their monster-sized bones and long-forgotten dead. There is the wizard-like man fucking the witch-like woman in a crumbling house that has a basement filled with funereal water. Even the girl's mother seems evil, emerging sometimes from a sauna like a bride of Satan emerging from a room in hell.
All of these events are normal. Indeed, Luna is in fact naturally revolting against her family and in the painful process of gaining self-knowledge. She is coming of age. But she is still a child, and so, for her, the experience of loss and physical and emotional transformation are felt with the intensity of a fairy tale, with all of its otherworldly dangers and horrors. To become an adult is to awake from the nightmares of childhood.