“The key to everything is found in Sicily”, wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
On the other hand, in the green Ionian valleys of the Peloritani Mountains, I found the roots of two Sicilians: Agatino and Michael Cavalieri.
One look at the Mungibebbu and another at the blue sea of the Calabrian coast then I leave the Valle d’Agrò where I met the great spirit of ‘Sicilianity’.
In these magical places each inhabitant proudly shows his deep roots and loves to tell the stories of those of his ancestors.
I put my face to the window of the aircraft, I look down and I see millions of lights illuminating a vast territory, then, I understand that I have arrived in the City of Angels, Los Angeles.
Another twenty minutes pass and then I meet Michael Cavalieri, a handsome figure, dark, with an intense gaze, like a true son of Sicily.
I can hardly hide the euphoria and repeat to myself in disbelief: I’m in the heart of the US television and film industry!
I feel that fatigue is prevailing over everything, but, despite this, from Michael’s house I can see Mount Lee with the monumental “Hollywood” sign, then finally, restful sleep arrives.
I have always loved and gladly talked about American cinema; this time I will not tell about films, but about Michael Cavalieri, an Italian-American actor.
With Michael we will talk about his film “Returned”, his beloved grandfather Agatino and those deep and solid roots that bind him to the land of his ancestors: Sicily and even more to Limina, a delightful village nestled at the foot of Mount Kalfa.
Dawn sees us already on our way to Santa Monica. The blue waters of the Pacific Ocean greet us with high foaming waves. We are going to have our chat at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
– Michael you were born in New York and you are part of the generation of Italian-Americans descended from those men and women who left their land for America in the last century. Do you want to tell me about yourself?
Michael puts a hand on his head as if to tidy up his memories as well as his hair and then starts talking.
– I lost my mother to cancer and a few years ago my sister too. Those deaths dragged me into loneliness and despair. In those terrible periods, of great pain, I always thought of my maternal grandfather Agatino Alibrandi, seeking in his memory the strength to go on.
My modest family comes from Limina, a small town in the province of Messina.
From there, grandfather Agatino in his twenties, speaking only Sicilian, left for the new continent in search of a better life. In America he had a long lineage, but also a lot of suffering.
Grandfather Agatino has always been my only great memory, I loved him, as long as he was alive I had a guide, he was my safe haven.
As a boy I was an athlete and I dreamed of becoming a footballer, in any case, my dream was shattered with my many injuries. For a while I worked on Wall Street in New York, I did not remotely imagine that fate had the world of celluloid in store for me.
– Michael, the American critics define you as a very talented actor, one who is passionate, in short, one who breaks through the screen. In the States you are famous and you have worked and work with important actors, but the great love for grandfather Agatino led you to shoot a film in Limina.
The film “Returned”, of which you are producer and director, celebrates your return to your roots. Do you want to talk about it?
– Yes sure. During times of great pain I have always thought of my relatives in Sicily, I have never forgotten my Sicilian-American roots and have always been proud of them.
I felt a strong desire to go to Sicily to Limina and to look for my relatives, find my family and above all my roots. I went for the first time in September 2011 and immediately felt at home, part of the family.
Walking through the streets I felt the presence of my grandfather, I felt protected and serene. During my first stay in the town, I worked through the pain and was able to accept it.
Every day I met new relatives and felt my roots strengthen more and more in that splendid land of Sicily. When I came up with the idea of a film about my grandfather I accidentally talked about it with Fabrizio Sergi and together we started developing the project.
I am aware that my story is similar to that of many young Sicilian-Americans who do not know their roots beyond the ocean.
With the film “Returned” I very much hope that these new generations will go in search of the past of their families and rebuild a strong bond with their land of origin.
The “Returned” film was shot thanks to a scholarship from directors Antony and Joe Russo, also Sicilian from Longi, and from the National Italian American Foundation.
It was shot in and around Limina.
Male lead was Michael, while his wife Maria played the part of girlfriend Sophie. The extras are all Liminese and await the release of the film with great anxiety.
We leave the Aquarium and walk towards the pier. Michael speaks and gestures like an authentic Sicilian showing me the beauties of the place, but I am distracted.
My thoughts fly away, to that subtle but very strong bond that unites the old and the new continents, to those deep roots sown by grandfather Agatino and now strengthened by Michael.
I really hope that all young Italian-Americans will go in search of their roots and are as proud of it as he is. We arrive on the pier, in front of Route 66 which connects with Chicago, when sunset is about to begin.
The sun appears as an immense ball of fire that slowly slips into the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, nature, once again, gives us a stunning spectacle. Michael turns slowly:
– Beautiful, is not it?
– Very beautiful
– I love much more the sunsets of my Sicily, of my Limina.
I look at it and smile! The memory of grandfather Agatino, mother Maria and all her family is too deeply rooted in my friend’s heart.
Deep roots that know of infinite love for the land of the fathers.