Sissy: A heart-wrenching short film about loss and rebirth

5 min read
17 June, 2022

Sissy is one of the most beautifully crafted shorts now hitting the festival circuit.

The film, an Italian production penned and helmed by award-winning filmmaker Eitan Pitigliani, is a touching tale revolving around Luca (compellingly played by Vincenzo Vivenzio), who is forced to cope, together with his father Antonio (veteran thesp Fortunato Cerlino), with the passing of his mother.

After her death, Luca hits rock bottom and lives on the streets among the homeless. One day, he finally decides to go back home for his father’s birthday, where something magical is going to happen.

Here, a seven-year-old girl (an outstanding Dea Lanzaro) appears out of the blue. She is ready to challenge Luca but also to provide some answers to his questions.

"Sissy was recently screened at the Cleveland Film Festival and is set to take part in some more gatherings, including the upcoming Oscar- and BAFTA-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival"

Before embarking on the making of Sissy, Pitigliani, an alumnus of the London Film Academy and The New York Film Academy, directed several successful shorts such as You Will Find Me (recipient of the Golden Spike Award at the Giffoni Film Festival), Like A Butterfly (starring the late Ed Asner and winner of over 20 international awards) and Insane Love (selected by over 50 festivals).

Sissy was recently screened at the Cleveland Film Festival and is set to take part in some more gatherings, including the upcoming Oscar- and BAFTA-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival.

SISSY - trailer from EITAN PITIGLIANI on Vimeo.

The New Arab sat down with Pitigliani to talk through his latest outing. The plot has deep links with the director’s past: “After the loss of my mum, it was like my whole world crumbled and I went deep down the rabbit hole. [...] You think about that over and over again, reliving it in your head, trying to find a different ending to that story, without success.

"The story couldn’t be changed, but what could be changed was the way to face and process that grief and her absence. That’s when, a few months after my mum passed, I realised that I had to do something for her in order to start living again. Firstly, to honour her and all that she has done for me throughout her life. I had to do something, a story to be turned into a film.”

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An unexpected encounter has been crucial to inspiring Pitigliani: “One day, I bumped into a 7-year-old girl, called Dea [“goddess” in Italian] and I don’t know how, but thanks to her mesmerising energy and her incredible magic, it felt like I could see my mum through her.

"I thought about her as a little girl, living in another world, another dimension, a beautiful garden by the water, with butterflies floating all around her, with waterfalls, and birds chirping.”

After writing up the script, one of the most delicate tasks was to cast the right lead: “Vincenzo [Vivenzio] is an incredible artist, one of the very few actors I know that can dig deep down the character’s soul, and his own at the same time, to bring it to life.

"It’s amazing how he keeps changing throughout the film, from the street to the sea. He’s just the best actor to work with. He is unique and his soul can shine so bright in and on a character. He made me cry, laugh and feel, and it was essential to tell that story.”

Still from Sissy: Luca faces his father
Still from Sissy - Luca faces his father [credit: Eitan Pitigliani]

Talking about casting the other roles, Pitigliani revealed: “Sissy is played by the actual little girl who inspired the story, to whom I was giving acting lessons at the time. The other two actors are Fortunato Cerlino from the series Gomorrah, who was my first choice for the role of the father.

"He read the script and loved it right away. [...] Last but not least, Mirella D’Angelo plays a very endearing role. She’s like an angel, gracious, marvellous and heavenly. I was astonished by the way she gave life to my most profound and most hidden emotions as if she could see them, somehow.

The short is enriched by the presence of an engaging score. “The score is an incredibly beautiful yet truly scary part of the journey when making a film like this."

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On his work with DoP Antonio De Rosa, he added: “The cinematography was also very important in this film, the very heart of it along with the actors and the magic. I always wanted to work with Antonio De Rosa, a young yet highly talented director of photography, with whom I worked intensely for about two months prior to filming.

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"We went through lots of paintings, films and pictures, with so many references in our minds. [...] It’s just beautiful how Antonio could come up with the best shots and solutions as if he was reading my mind. It wasn’t easy, since the colour palette and the transition from blue to pink, and then to pinkish-blue, took over the whole scene.”

Lastly, Pitigliani disclosed some details about his future endeavours: “I’m working on a feature that I dedicated to my mum as well an on-the-road movie to be filmed in Italy. I have one of the best Italian actresses waiting to get it off the ground. I’m also working on a few scripts, among which there’s a very special screenplay for a dear friend of mine, who had a disabled daughter that passed away recently. I’m very honoured to give a voice to this beautiful soul.”

Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Cork, Ireland. 

Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni