"Sicilian Ghost Story" - a beautiful Italian crime film you need to see

Sicilian Ghost Story is in Italian with subtitles, but don’t let that put you off - this is a truly marvellous, heart-wrenching watch. It’s based on a true story which I recommend not looking up before you see it for the full impact of the ending. 


In short, it tells the story of Giuseppe, a Sicilian boy who was abducted in 1996 by the mafia as leverage over his father, who was co-operating with the police. It’s also about Giuseppe’s girlfriend, Luna, and her quest to get to the bottom of his unexplained disappearance.

One of things that's so remarkable about the film manifests in the opening shots, which bring us from a dark, echoey cave into modern-day (or 1990’s) Sicily. But the gothic, “ghost story”, unreality stays with us in the aesthetic telling of a story grounded in real events, as the film blends fantasy and real tragedy. That intro gives us a long time before we hear the first words, and the film only does part of its “talking” through the spoken word.



The cinematography is fantastic -it's a beautiful film. The shot composition is astonishingly crisp and precise in what it wants to highlight or illustrate, and the colours of the film are absolutely stunning, sumptuous and elevated beyond plausible vivacity, lending to that fantasy feel.  Sicilian Ghost Story is fantastic at contrasting beauty with brutality, fitting for Southern Italy with its mafia underbelly, and this contrast has a noticeable ebb and flow between the two extremes, giving the film a fantastic shape.

The film is deeply charming and endearing, and utterly immersive in presenting the perspective of the child characters most of the time. The world is mysterious and often out of focus when we are brought to new locations, creating an atmosphere which can actually make you really nervous for Luna’s safety with out resorting to the unsubtle strategies of Hollywood horror.


The retelling of real events, particularly ones of such gravity and impact on the lives they affected, is a sensitive task and the directors (Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza) seem to be keenly focussed on portraying the damaging consequences of violence without giving the audience the catharsis of displaying violence itself, an effort for which they must be applauded.


It’s noticeable that towards the end the pacing stumbles a little in telling the end of the story and drawing numerous threads together, but every moment is worth it, particularly the climax. While early in the film images are allowed to speak for themselves, this effect is magnified in the ending and not wanting to spoil it, the effect is heart-stopping.


The Questionaire with Paolo Rotondo - as reported by The Sunday Star Times

Best known to NZ audiences for his work on Shortland Street, Paolo Rotondo has had a successful career spanning theatre, film and television, as an actor, writer, director and producer. He made his feature length directorial debut in 2014 with the poignant drama Orphans and Kingdoms

Paolo Rotondo.jpg


What are you plugging right now?

My two passions are in full swing right now — cinema and theatre. I am artistic director of the Cinema Italiano Festival (The Italian Film Festival). In theatre, a play I wrote by the name of Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn is touring around the North Island.

What's your idea of perfect happiness?

Shooting a film in an exotic location near a sparkling warm sea with my wife and kids on set. Waiting for the heat of the day to pass by frolicking in the water before eating interesting new foods and hearing live music played by locals.

Which living person do you most admire?

My beautiful wife for putting up with me.

What's your most embarrassing moment?

Walking into a closet by accident after delivering an impassioned speech in a crowded lecture theatre.

What is your most prized material possession?

An antique sailing chest that belonged to my father and his father before that and so on ...

What is the most adventurous thing you have done that has taken you out of your comfort zone at the time?

Scuba diving with sharks on purpose, obviously pre-kids. 

What gets your back up?


If you could time travel, where would you go and why?

The Roman times, I'm sure I've been there before and I may feel at home.

What life lesson would you pass on to your children?

Listening is more important than speaking at times.

What job would you do other than your own and why?

I would have loved to be an architect. It is such a diverse craft that requires, art, science and philosophy.

If you were given three wishes that a magic genie could grant, what would they be?

The power to work to my fullest potential, universal kindness, next level consciousness for humankind.

  • The Italian Film Festival) which is touring nationwide and opens in Auckland on August 30 at Bridgeway Cinemas. Kororāreka: The Ballad of Maggie Flynn is touring New Zealand from August 24.

Ferragosto and "Palio"

Ferragosto and "Palio"

 The Roman Emperor Augustus so enjoyed late summer that he claimed as his own the month we now call by his name. 

Augustus ordered month-long festivities, called feriae augustus, which included games, races and rituals to honor the goddess Diana, who was worshiped as queen of the fields as well as of heaven and earth. Augustus was equally enamored with the beguiling island of Capri, which he appropriated from the municipality of Naples in exchange for the nearby island of Ischia.

With the rise of Christianity and the suppression of pagan feasts, August 15 became a religious holiday commemorating the assumption or lifting into heaven of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Over the centuries various communities developed special ways of honoring the Madonna.  In the Sardinian town of Sassari,  for instance, men carrying elaborately decorated wood columns dance through the streets. 

Messina’s townspeople construct La Vara, a fantastic sixty-foot-high pyramid from which stars, clouds and figures of saints dangle. At one time young boys dressed as angels and apostles were hoisted into the air by rings attached to La Vara. As part of the ceremonies a young girl representing the Virgin Mary freed a prisoner. 

According to a Neapolitan legend, local fishermen once pulled a portrait of the Madonna from the sea, and their king ordered a church built around it at the beach.  On August 15, which became known as the Festa della Nzegna, everyone was tossed into the water. The night before, the faithful ate only watermelon, but the next day they feasted on sumptuous desserts.

In the late  Renaissance, Rome’s governors flooded the splendid Piazza Navona for festivities that included fake fish splashing in the water and young boys diving for coins. As darkness fell, candles and torches glistened, and Romans enjoyed lavish dinners called sabatine (little Saturday feasts).

Times have changed. Now a national holiday, Ferragosto marks the height of the Italian vacation season. In cities and towns many restaurants and shops close.  The term “ferragosto in città” describes, not just the emptied towns, but any bleak or unhappy situation. As millions flock to the beaches, seaside villages host daylong festivities that often end with spectacular displays of  fireworks (fuochi d’artificio). 

The summer celebrations continue throughout August, including:

    *The Palio (horse race) in Siena on August 16. Just as they first did in 1656, race horses (cavalli) and their bareback riders representing the city’s contrade (wards or neighborhoods) whip madly around the edges of the Piazza del Campo. The prize of a silk banner goes to the first horse to cross the finish line with its head ornaments intact -- with or without its jockey.  You can watch a documentary of this ancient horserace in our Festival in one of our remaining locations of Auckland, Wellington, Whakatane, Matakana, Cambridge so keep a look out on our website.

    *A torchlight procession commemorating the "Miracle of the White Madonna" in Portovenere in Liguria

    *A three-week festival with costumes, processions and music to celebrate La Fuga del Bove (The Escape of the Ox) in Montefalco in Tuscany.

    *Elaborate historic processions to commemorate La Perdonanza (The Pope's Pardon)  in L'Aquila in Abruzzo.

    *Venice Film Festival in late August.

    *Settimane Musicali di Stresa (musical weeks) in Stressa on Lago Maggiore in late August.

    Buone feste!

Words and Expressions

Ferragostano -- of/related to Ferragosto  

L’estate -- summer

Festeggiare -- to celebrate

Andare in ferie -- go on holiday

Opening Night in Masterton

Opening Night - Havelock North

Opening Night - TAURANGA

It's All About Karma

It's All About Karma

The writer/director of God Willing  returns with this brilliant comedy starring two of Italy’s finest talents – Fabio De Luigi (A Woman as a Friend) and Elio Germano (Leopardi).

Giacomo (De Luigi) is a polite but eccentric heir to an industrial dynasty but he’d rather spend his days lost in his hobbies than run a business. A practicing Buddhist, he is led to believe by a retired French scholar (Philippe Leroy) that the reincarnation of his father can be found in Mario (Germano), a materialistic con-man with a hefty debt. The absurd encounter develops into an unusual friendship, as they find they have more in common than they think.

They’re both lonely and feel inadequate, Mario wants to win back his wife who considers him a failure, while Giacomo wants to find a way to be accepted by his stepfather and half-sister who have always considered him a fool. Finding the common humanity between these vastly different men, Falcone reignites the spark that made God Willing such a smash hit two years ago.

Opening Night Photos - CHRISTCHURCH

Opening Night Photos - NELSON

Friday 6 July - Opening Night in Tauranga

Friday 6 July - Opening Night in Tauranga

Tickets have just gone on sale at The Rialto Tauranga for our Opening Night of the Italian Film Festival NZ!

We warmly invite you to see 'Wife & Husband / Moglie e Marito' with complimentary aperitivi for Cinema Italiano Festival ticket holders. Drinks by Peroni NZ, Prosecco from Luna Argenta, Acqua Panna (still water), San Pellegrino (sparkling) and wine, all served with stuzzichini from Vetro.

As always we have a few extra treats on Opening Night so be there from 5.30pm with the film screening at 6.15pm.

Book Tickets Here


L'anno del Cibo Italiano / The Year of Italian Food

An excerpt from Dianne Hales - the author of 'La Bella Lingua'

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Agricultural Policies has named 2018 “The Year of Italian Food.”  While I personally feel we should celebrate Italian food every year, I’m delighted to add my voice to the chorus of praise for everyone’s favorite cucina (a triple-tasking word that can translate as cuisine, cooking and kitchen).

Italy’s food and language meld together as smoothly as cacio sui maccheroni (cheese on macaroni). Both boast a rich and rollicking history dating back to ancient times. Both vary greatly from region to region, even from village to village.  Both reflect centuries of invasion, assimilation and conquest. And both can transform daily necessities into vibrant celebrations.

Italians have long realized that we are, quite literally, what we eat.  Sapia, Latin for taste, gave rise to Italian’s sapienza (wisdom). In pursuit of divine wisdom and saintly virtues, Italians developed the tradition of “eating the gods.”   Through the yearly cycle of church holidays, they devour dita degli apostoli (fingers of the apostles, crêpes filled with sweetened ricotta); minni di Sant’Agata (breasts of Saint Agatha, stuffed with marzipan); occhi  di Santa Lucia (eyes of Santa Lucia, circles of durum bread);  and  at Christmas cartellate (the cloths that cradled the baby Jesus, made of flour, oil and dry white wine) and calzoncicchi  di Gesu Bambino  (pillows of pasta filled with a mix of pureed garbanzos, chocolate, and homemade rosolio (a liqueur derived from rose petals), fried and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon

I have adopted a similar strategy of “eating Italian” to make the language part of me.  l read aloud the lilting words for simple culinary techniques, such as rosolare for make golden, sbricciolare for crumble and sciaquare for rinse.  I  revel in the linguistic pantry of pasta shapes:  little ears, half sleeves, stars, thimbles—and the tartly named lingue di suocera, “twisted mother-in-law tongues,” and strozzapreti, “priest-stranglers” (rich enough  to sate ravenous clerics before the expensive meat course).

Desserts like zuccotto (sponge bombe filled with ice cream), ciambellone (ring cake), suspiru di Monaca (a nun’s sigh) and tiramisu (pick-me-up) glide so deliciously over the tongue that I agree with cooks who claim they can fare respirare i morti (make the dead breathe).   I’m especially fond of Rome’s lacrime d’amore  (tears of love), candy sugar pearls filled with the same sweet syrup parents serve children for a toast on special occasions.

Italian’s gastronomic words—like the dishes they describe—do more than tease or appease the appetite. They spice up daily conversations—as you’ll find in the following examples:

Words and Expressions

Prezzemolo (parsley) -- a  busybody  who noses into everything   

Salame (salami) –- a silly fool, blockhead

Mozzarella –- someone bland or boring

Polpettone (large meatball) -- a worthless or banal movie

Tutto fumo e niente arrosto  (all smoke and no roast) -- all sizzle and no steak

Dianne Hales is the author of  MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.


Also an early thank you to all of our food suppliers and caterers for the Cinema Italiano Festival Opening Nights

Casamassima in Christchurch

Vetro Tauranga

Alessandros Pizzeria Havelock North

Poderi Crisci Waiheke Island

Non Solo PIzza Auckland

La Bella Italia Wellington

Matakana Deli Matakana



The Italian Film Festival screens in Matakana Cinemas - 14 to 22 March

We are so excited to be screening the 2017 Italian Film Festival Programme at the beautiful Matakana Cinemas.  The Opening Night film is 'Roman Holiday' starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, and this is the restored version of the 1953 classic!

Watch this video on what her children and grandchildren had to say about her style, personality and legacy.