Ghosts and Silence in Il sud è niente

Last night, I watched the 2013 film Il sud è niente (South is Nothing), and I’m still thinking about it. It’s an Italian film directed by Fabio Mollo. It centers around a 17-year-old girl named Grazia who goes swimming one day and sees her dead brother, Pietro, materialize in the water. His ghost haunts the film. Today, I was thinking about how grief grows in the place where presence ceases, how death means that we lose presence and gain absence and, with this absence, comes a grave and vociferous silence. Grazia’s father refuses to speak about Pietro, and Grazia suffers as a result. Her father will not open up to her about their shared loss and she feels lost, adrift, drowning in grief. When Grazia mentions this silence to her grandmother, the woman responds “If you don’t talk about things, they can’t hurt you” but, of course, this isn’t true. Grazia is hurting because of Pietro’s death and because of the silence that reigns in her family about the loss.

I loved the character of Grazia. She’s multi-dimensional and so full of life, like the entire film. She's tough, talks back, expresses her fury. At the same time, she's profoundly fragile and wounded. She’s tortured by grief, but finds moments of reprieve, like when she rides her moped with abandon on the streets of Italy, dances with Carmelo--a boy she meets at a carnival--and, later, makes love with him for the first time. She’s searching for answers, unraveling the mystery of her brother’s death until she pulls the final thread and the truth comes crashing in and the silence is finally broken between Grazia and her father. Pietro’s ghost acts as a catalyst that forces the characters to interrogate the state of their lives and to decide if they can bear the conditions under which they live. The ghost is like a physical manifestation of the thing they have repressed, avoided, chosen to not talk about but that they cannot escape.

Pietro is dead. He is gone, but, like a woman who is in love with Grazia’s father says to him, the living are still alive. How do we live with our ghosts? How do we make space for the dead in our lives? How do we keep living in the wake of unspeakable loss? One step is to speak and keep speaking and open ourselves up to other people and to the experiences of life, both painful and beautiful. I think that’s what Grazia discovers. For so long, she kept people away, at a distance, afraid they would hurt her and, of course, they do, but they also give her love and tenderness and support when she's able to make a connection. Pietro is gone, but instead of only feeling his absence, she can finally feel the presence of the other people in her life.

For a limited time, you can stream Il sud è niente for free at Festival Scope.