Art Imitates Life in the Roles of Filippo Luna

"Telling stories like the one told in ‘Sicilian Ghost Story’ allows you not to forget."

Born in 1968, Filippo Luna grew up in San Giuseppe Jato, a village in the Province of Palermo, and graduated in 1992 from Sicily’s Academy of Ancient Drama. He pursued his acting career in Rome but returned to Sicily where he settled in Palermo and worked in theater. Shortly thereafter, his career took off, paving the way for a smooth transition into cinema. Grateful for the opportunities, Luna calls Palermo his “Little America,” describing the city as “an open-air stage where everything coexists and transforms itself, enriching each day.”

His feature film debut came in 2006 with Emanuele Crialese’s immigration tale, Golden Door. He went back and forth between cinema and stage after that, working with a number of prominent directors. In 2013, he starred in and was also a dialogue coach for Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia’s Salvo, which won an award in the Critics’ Week competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

Canada’s annual Contemporary Italian Film Festival recently showed Salvo Cuccia’s Lo Scambio, which stars Luna and takes place in Palermo during the mid-1990s when violent crime was at its peak. Inspired by true events, the film follows a husband and wife in their mid-40s. She longs for a child, becoming obsessed with the story of a boy who was kidnapped by the mafia in retaliation for his father becoming an informant. Unbeknownst to her, her husband is connected to the kidnapping.

Also inspired by that same kidnapping is Luna’s latest film, Sicilian Ghost Story. The film hits U.S. theaters in December. Directors Piazza and Grassadonia use fantasy and imagination to tell the heartbreaking story of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the young son of a mafia informant who was kidnapped for revenge in 1993. The boy was held for 779 torturous days before meeting his brutal end.

On portraying characters who represent the horror of the Sicilian mafia while continuing to adore the land of his origins, Luna explains, “Being Sicilian, for me, is a blessing but, almost always, it exposes you to mafia roles or evil characters. This is risky because you could fall into a cliché. One is fortunate to be directed by experienced filmmakers who have a clear vision of their project. This puts you on the right track to giving each character his personality and nuances.”

Speaking to the profoundly tragic story of his latest film, Luna believes that: “telling stories like the one told in Sicilian Ghost Story allows you not to forget, to have a memory, to always understand which side is good. This is why we make films about our saddest stories — so as not to forget.” 

Whether you know the story going in or you learn about it as it unfolds, there are a few scenes that are almost unbearable to watch. Although the directors steer clear of portraying direct violence, what’s implied is more powerful than anything that might happen on screen. 

Many say that Giuseppe Di Matteo was all but forgotten during much of that 779-day span, most likely because citizens were frightened to challenge the kidnappers. Thanks to the directors, Sicilian Ghost Story ensures that his memory will live on not only in Sicily but also throughout the world.

Sicilian Ghost Story will make its U.S. theatrical premiere in New York at the Quad Theater on November 30 with director Antonio Piazza in attendance. Check the film’s distributor Strand Releasing at www.strandreleasing.com for the schedule of screenings across America. 

'Sicilian Ghost Story' costars Filippo Luna (L) and Vincenzo Amato (R)

'Sicilian Ghost Story' costars Filippo Luna (L) and Vincenzo Amato (R)