Tragedy echoes through time in “The Macaluso Sisters”

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In a moving story that spans several decades, “The Macaluso Sisters” follows five orphaned sisters born and raised in an apartment located on the outskirts of Palermo. They support themselves by renting out pigeons for events.

Directed by Emma Dante, who adapted the film from her own 2014 play by the same name, the all-female cast interprets the story in three chapters that show how the tragic events of a single day can follow a family through childhood, adulthood and into old age.

The first chapter reveals the tragedy of the youngest sister, Antonella, dying during a beach outing. She becomes a permanent presence in the household, never aging. The film follows the consequences of that fateful day with the apartment serving as a central character that houses all of the memories and rage that each sister carries inside her.

In the second chapter, guilt gets the best of the adult sisters, proving that although years have passed, the memory of that day stays frozen in time. In a director’s note, Dante offered insight into this theme. “‘The Macaluso Sisters’ is a film about time. About memory. About things that last. About people who remain even after their death. It is a film on old age as the incredible finishing line of life.”

The film being set in one principal location gives the audience a certain familiarity and reflects the passing of time as the house ages along with the inhabitants. In the third chapter, when there is a break between the remaining sisters and the house, a sense of melancholy is felt because, after watching these sisters mourn and struggle in these rooms that become so familiar,  we too, are letting go. That emotion speaks to the skill of the director.

The film’s cinematographer, Gherardo Gossi, who often collaborates with Daniele Vicari and Susanna Nicchiarelli, also worked with Dante on her 2014 debut film “Via Castellana Bandiera” (A Street in Palermo). His poetic vision perfectly encompasses everything from the lazy summer days at the beach and the innocence of childhood to the intense heartache these women endure day in and day out after losing their beloved sibling. Gossi’s framing combined with the set design and lighting capture the torment and misery they carry over the possibility that they might have prevented the accident that took their sister.

The sophistication of the film is the result of Dante’s varied background as a director. She began her career in theater and has also directed opera productions, the most high-profile being her controversial 2009 interpretation of Bizet’s “Carmen” at Milan’s La Scala, which even had maestro Franco Zeffirelli up in arms. “The Macaluso Sisters” is her second film. Her first, which was adapted from her novel, earned her numerous awards and accolades, including the prestigious Ingmar Bergman International Debut Award at the 37th Göteborg Festival.

Dante is still very active in the theater. In addition to writing and directing, she is passing on her expertise to the next generation in the form of workshops. “Theater in Reserve” was recently designed by Dante to familiarize youngsters with the stage and to provide a space to foster their creativity.

To follow her on Facebook, click here.

“The Macaluso Sisters” will be opening soon in the Chicago area.

For details, click here.

To watch a trailer, click here.


About Jeannine Guilyard

Jeannine Guilyard is a longtime correspondent for Fra Noi and the Italian-American community newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. She has also contributed to the Italian Tribune of New Jersey, Italian Tribune of Michigan and L'Italo Americano of Southern California. Jeannine wrote and directed the short film "Gelsomina," which was selected for the Screenings Program of the 59th Venice Film Festival, and she won Emmy and Peabody awards as an editor of ABC's "Special Report" following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jeannine is also a writer and editor for Italian Cinema Today, a publication and blog she founded in 2005 to bridge culture between New York and Italy. Follow her on Instagram at Italianartcinema and on Twitter at @ItaloCinema2day.

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