THIS Italian drama is one of the strangest and most creative films released so far this year. Taking a leaf out of Guillermo del Toro’s book, it mixes cruel reality with ethereal fantasy and while the combination doesn’t always entirely work, it makes for an intriguing concoction.

The plot is based around the real life case of 13-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo (Gaetano Fernandez) who, back in 1996, was kidnapped and held captive so that his father wouldn’t testify in a case against the local Mafia. At first it’s a scandal, but as clues to his whereabouts never really materialize, the public grow disinterested.

The same can’t be said for Luna (Julia Jedlikowska), a classmate of Giuseppe’s who became smitten with him just before his disappearance. She feels unable to let it go and takes it upon herself to venture into the dangerous unknown to find out what happened to him.

The charismatic Jedlikowska plays her with a fierce determination to make her a compelling young heroine who rebels against the wishes of her strict mother and public apathy (Sabine Timoteo) to rescue someone she cares about.

The sheer force of her will manifests itself in a way that’s possibly a supernatural connection or just all in their heads; a letter Luna writes to Giuseppe becomes his only source of emotional survival as we see him horrendously shackled and “maintained” by his captors (not for the faint-hearted).

If you’re invested in the literal mechanics of that then it will no doubt frustrate. Ultimately I don’t think it really matters; the point of it is to underline the tragic story with some sense of hope in a young romance blossoming and if or how it’s possible for that to be their saviour.

It’s a bold gambit from second time directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza (their first being similarly stylish crime drama Salvo).

Their storytelling here can be a bit meandering and hard-going in the ways it interconnects plot strands, character perspectives and the overall magical realism approach which fuels it; the disorientating nature of some of its more out-there flights of fancy sequences can be befuddling and frustrating as much as they can be fascinating and awe-inspiring.

But there’s something to be said for a film that goes its own way, that doesn’t compensate audience expectations of how a true mystery should be explored. The directors’ ambitious sense of cinematic style is refreshing and absorbing, their use of sound and visuals combining to make for a dreamlike, sometimes downright disorientating experience sustained by a tender heart beating beneath harsh realism.