Sicily! (1999)

A more accessible Straub-Huillet work than usual, focusing on a man who returns to Sicily and the artfully-staged conversations he has with various people in his journey.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet
1999 | Italy/France | Drama | 67 mins | 1.37:1 | Italian
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Gianni Buscarino, Vittorio Vigneri, Angela Nugar
Plot: After many years away, Silvestro returns from northern Italy to the Sicilian countryside of his childhood to visit his mother.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
Belva Film

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward/Vignette-style
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

A more accessible work by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet than usual, and hence, a useful introduction for those who are new to the formally austere cinema of the duo, Sicily! is a beautifully-shot black-and-white travelogue focusing on one man’s trip back to his native Sicily after having been away for a long time. 

Beginning at a harbour where he converses with an orange picker, Sicily! follows the opening sketch with a series of random conversational pieces, which include several passengers on a train and a knife-sharpener.  But the lengthiest and most substantial of the lot has got to be the man’s visit to his mother’s old home. 

A range of emotions from guilt, regret, anger, joy, confusion and more are expressed quite stylistically (the characters would quite often stare blankly into space after a long conversation—or is it into each other’s eyes as they search for an elusive shared meaning?), though rarely dramatically as they talk about the state of Sicily, Sicilian life as it is now and as they remembered, the man’s childhood, his irresponsible estranged father, the food that they ate, etc. 

Much of the film is in medium shots or close-ups, so when we get a panoramic pan from Straub-Huillet of the picturesque Sicilian landscape, we literally experience a cinematic double-take as the filmmakers conspicuously repeat the shot. 

The artfully-staged conversations, marked by the undulating Sicilian accent, can be a joy to listen to, though the work ultimately remains an acquired taste even for arthouse fans. 

Grade: B

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