Conversazione in Sicilia by Elio Vittorini was first published on the magazine Letteratura between 1938 and 1939 and in this same year it was published with the title Nome e lagrime. Two years later it was published with the current title. Why did Danièle Huillet e Jean-Marie Straub want to make a movie from this novel? Because of a lucky coincidence. Rather a short circuit. They settled in Italy, since the end of the 60s, going up and down the peninsula looking for locations for movies. When they were in Sicily for the survey for Mosé e Aronne they bumped into mountains of oranges which were rotting under a bridge. Someone told them that Vittorini wrote about this fact in Conversazione in Sicilia. They got hold of the book. They read it. They were impressed. They started working on a film adaptation of it. All the words of the movie come from the novel. Straub recalls it in an interview: “All the words in the movie come from the novel, but dialogues don't have this shape. There are often psychological notes and descriptions.” Notes that were deleted by Straub and Huillet. In the movie, the psychology doesn't derive from the characters but from the precise mise-en-scène and editing choices. And the description is all included in the continuous panning shots and the travelings which follow one another. It's a difficult challenge, maybe. But is this not how movies have to be made?
Produced in 1998 and presented in Cannes the following year, Sicilia! is not a “rigorous” movie as the critic wrote. It's full of comic, sensual and moving situations and showing how the Italian language resembles singing. With the characters quoting the novel (a mother, a traveller, an orange seller, a knife grinder, a landowner, a real estate registry officer) we are able to discover the dignity and simplicity of a vanished world.