Pras on WorldFilms: THE SICILIAN GIRL

Based on the true story of Rita Atria and Judge Paolo Borsellino, The Sicilian Girl is the dramatic retelling f Atria’s story: how a 17-year-old Sicilian whose father and brother were both Mafia members (and victims) breaks the vow of silence that enshrouds that world, and gives evidence to famed anti-mafia judge Borselino. Drawing upon Rita’s extensive diaries, director Marco Amenta tells her story, beginning in Sicily in 1985. A small child experiences her beloved father as a respected member of the community, a man to whom the neighbors turn
for help when a rapacious landlord orders their eviction,. Soon after, he’s shot dead in the sun drenched village square as his daughter looks on. Six years
later, her brother is murdered. In court, Rita’s words are denounced as “the
ravings of a fantatical adolescent bent on revenge”. But are they?

An Angry Soul From a Hard Island


When we first meet Rita Mancuso, the purposeful heroine of “The Sicilian Girl,”  she’s a bratty 11-year-old (played by Miriana Faja) slapping tomato sauce onto her mother’s freshly laundered sheets. Later we see her mouthing off to a prosecutor from Palermo (Gérard Jugnot) who has come to Rita’s village to question her adored father — an old-school Mafioso who defends his neighbors from less gentlemanly wiseguys — about the murder of a local rapist. The year is 1985, and Rita, her authority-flouting credentials firmly established, is poised to mouth off on a much grander scale.

Based on the brief life of Rita Atria, a Sicilian teenager whose testimony was crucial to the convictions of a large number of Mafia members (some of the trials are still going on),  “The Sicilian Girl” is a conventional drama about an exceedingly unconventional young woman.  Spurred by the murders of her father and brother at the hands of a rival clan, Rita, now a formidable 17-year-old embodied by Veronica D’Agostino, seeks out the prosecutor and offers to testify against the killers and their associates. In diaries going back six years, she has been obsessively logging details and photographs of Mafia activity, and now she wants revenge.

Hewing to common stereotypes of Italian women, this Rita is a pistol (though one source suggests that the real Rita may not have started out that way).  Sullenly ensconced in a witness protection program in Rome and given the name of Silvia (“I don’t like Silvia!”), refusing to exchange her drab, bumpkin-black dresses for colorful Roman chic, Rita shows no fear.

“I’m sure that I won’t live long,” she says, trying to prove it by recklessly writing letters to the mother who hates her (Lucia Sardo) and to her childhood sweetheart — and Mafia member — Vito (Francesco Casisa). Or maybe she doesn’t fully understand the concept of witness protection.

Belonging more in the realm of tragic melodrama than true crime, “The Sicilian Girl” is hobbled by sluggish direction (by Marco Amenta, who previously addressed Atria’s story in his 1997 documentary, “One Girl Against the Mafia: Diary of a Sicilian Rebel”), and a revulsion to nuance. Frequently underlighted (one scene in a graveyard is just a blur of murky movement) and oversentimentalized, the film aims at heart over mind at every turn. Grappling with the balance between personal journey and law-and-order drama, the script (by Mr. Amenta, Gianni Romoli and Sergio Donati) wavers between soapy and trite, though the setting for the trials — the fascinatingly medieval Tribunal of Palermo — lends the courtroom scenes a bulletproof dignity.

Also bulletproof, at least to criticism, is Ms. D’Agostino, whose indefatigable presence is the film’s chief asset. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the young Sigourney Weaver (and to the real Rita, as a teasing clip during the end credits shows), the actress makes her a battering ram of hurt and fury. Dark and wild, with frown lines etched between her eyes as though born enraged, she transforms retribution into a moral crusade. The writers should have thought twice about her climactic revenge-versus-justice speech: this is a character who begs to end her quest as unrepentantly vengeful as when she began.

Only with men do we see her softer side, especially in her growing fondness for the prosecutor (based on Paolo Borsellino, who was killed by a Mafia car bomb in 1992). In one of the film’s loveliest scenes, Rita enjoys a day at the beach with a sweet-faced Roman boy (Primo Reggiani), a golden reprieve from a story — and a palette — wedded to darkness. As she runs, laughing, in the butterscotch sand, we see no hint of the angry young girl who nevertheless had the patience to play the long game.

Directed by Marco Amenta; written by Mr. Amenta, Sergio Donati and Gianni Romoli; director of photography, Luca Bigazzi; edited by Mirco Garrone; music by Pasquale Catalano; production designer, Marcello Di Carlo; costumes by Cristina Francioni; produced by Simonetta Amenta, Tilde Corsi, Gianni Romoli, Raphael Berdugo and Mr. Amenta; released by Music Box Films.

WITH: Veronica D’Agostino (Rita Mancuso), Gérard Jugnot (Prosecutor), Marcello Mazzarella (Don Michele Mancuso), Lucia Sardo (Rosa Mancuso), Mario Pupella (Don Salvo Rimi), Miriana Faja (young Rita), Primo Reggiani (Lorenzo) and Francesco Casisa (Vito).

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