Ripley in Palermo

Without wanting to contribute too much to the overtourism phenomenon that is increasingly associated with film locations, we can’t help but focus on the beautifully pared-back cinematography of Ripley, the new Netflix series, and its connection to Sicily. Anyone who has seen the black and white Neorealist masterpieces of Italian cinema will be immediately struck by the similarities and, unsurprisingly, Ripley’s director has been quoted as saying they were a direct influence on his style choices for the series.

It’s not the first time that Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented My Ripley, has made it to the screen – there was a 1960 French version with Alain Delon, Plein Soleil, and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film with a menacing Matt Damon and Jude Law, to name but two. Steven Zaillian’s version, however, has taken the time various episodes allow to develop fully the threatening nature of the plot and the ice-cold calculation of Ripley embodied by Andrew Scott and enhanced by the chiaroscuro of Zaillian’s direction.

Most location articles have focused on Atrani, the adopted home of Dickie Greenleaf (the rich dilletante that Ripley has been sent to bring home) and Capri, where Greenleaf’s villa is in reality situated. Both places are fearing an unsustainable wave of Netflix-induced tourism. Sicily, however, also features, but has received less attention from those transfixed by Atrani’s Byzantine twist of alleyways. In fact, it’s Palermo that appears including the Santuario di Santa Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino. Ripley faces the brooding intersection of rock face and church as he walks to enter the shrine. By this stage, the interloper’s crimes are well-established, his guilt firmly placed in the mind of the viewer whether or not his icy calculation is impinged by any feelings of culpability.

Palermo Cathedral, Sammy Sander.

Andrew Scott is also filmed in front of the city’s cathedral, looking up at the iconic four corners of the Quattro Canti and inside the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, home to the Baroque stucco work of Giacomo Serpotta and former home to the stolen Caravaggio canvas, Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence. Although the painting has never been recovered and its disappearance has been shrouded in mystery, the church does now boast a replica of the original reproduced with all that modern technology could muster. The darkness surrounding the missing image and the ghosts of Caravggio’s own complicated, crime-filled life are fitting accompaniments to a series so tinged with the flinty edges of psychopathic behaviour – the shadows of life within such a light-filled realm.

Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Stendhal55, CC BY-SA 4.0, b/w alteration.

Ripley also wanders the empty streets of the Vucciria, the market so well-evoked by Renato Guttuso in his eponymous painting that shows a woman walking through the street surrounded on either side by the signs of carnivorous death – a decapitated sword fish and hanging meat carcasses – Sicilian abundance touched by an omnipresent reality, a modern momento mori. We also see Ripley/Scott in Piazza Meli, so named for Giovanni Meli, the eighteenth century Palermitan poet and playwright, philosopher and doctor, known for his dialect poetry, moral fables and a Sicilian Don Chisciotti e Sanciu Panza. Ripley is the Sancho to Dickie Greenleaf’s Quixote, but a usurping Sancho able to undermine and replace a very unidealistic Quixote whose dreams include the artistic fig leaf of painting for which he has little talent.

The Vucciria Market, public domain.

We will refrain from any plot spoilers, but Palermo plays its part in the unfolding story, where feeling and empathy have taken a holiday to be replaced by a life lived in the delineated shadows of the Mediterranean that cut so starkly against the light of a Sicilian sky.

Andrew and Suzanne Edwards
Andrew and Suzanne Edwards
In addition to freelance writing, Andy and Suzanne both work in education. Andy is also a translator who gets most enjoyment from translating literary works and Suzanne is a lecturer and linguistics graduate. They are frequent visitors to Sicily and have spent a great deal of time exploring its back roads in search of the landscapes that inspired the imaginations of many writers, both Sicilian and from overseas. Literature, art, food and society are their focus and their passion. Sicily has it all. They are the authors of the books - Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers, Andalucia: A Literary Guide for Travellers, His Master's Reflection: Travels with John Polidori, Lord Byron's Doctor, Ghosts of the Belle Epoque: The History of the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, Palermo and Down to the Sunless Sea: A Troubled Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the Mediterranean. Andy is the translator of Borges in Sicily and Federico De Roberto's Agony.

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