The Sicilian Girl, directed by Marco Amenta, tells the true story of Rita Atria, a 17 year old young woman who defied the Sicilian Mafia in 1991 by testifying against them due to the murder of her father and brother. Historically, this was the first time a woman born into “The Family” would publicly challenge the infamous organization. However, what sounds like excellent fodder for a juicy expose about justice and familial bonds unfortunately sinks like lead beneath its virtuous attempts to appear unromantic about an often cinematically celebrated subject.
Amenta’s film opens with a cornered looking Rita (Veronica D’Agostino) begging an officer of the law to let her keep her pistol while in the witness protection program—it happens to be all she has left of her father, a telling memento. Flashback seven years to 1985 Sicily, and we see Rita as a young, spoiled child, cherished by her father, Don Michele, and a hellion towards her brow beaten mother. Loud, opinionated and disrespectful to the law, Rita shows all the signs of becoming a brassy Mafia princess, when she suddenly is the sole witness to her father’s brutal murder. Traumatized, she seeks solace in her father’s right hand man (and now the Don) until her older brother informs her that it is their trusted “Uncle” that ordered the hit on their father. Rita is only consoled by her brother’s plan to avenge their father’s death after several years’ preparation when they reach adulthood. Meanwhile, Rita drowns her rage and sorrow by keeping comprehensive diaries about everything in her mob affiliated life. And it is here where Amenta begins to unleash his heavy handed flourishes. Rita as narrator utters fun lines about her bitter, all-consuming rage like “Even tomatoes tasted like blood.” Well, I must say, that’s terrible, especially if you’re Italian. Fast forward to 1991, and Rita’s brother is murdered in a botched attempt at vengeance. Angrily, she stomps off to Palermo to give her diaries to a police officer she insulted as a child (French star Gerard Jugnot). And we’re off to the races.
Having an opportunity to delve into courtroom melodrama, Amenta chooses instead to give us some of the most turgid courtroom scenes possible. It doesn’t help that D’Agostino as Rita plays her like a bombastic shrew unable to control her thinly layered vengeance and other selfish motives for bringing all these smarmy mobsters to court. Which leads us to Amenta attempting to imbue Rita with some humanity and even common sense, but it is here that the film fails miserably. The prosecution attempts to discredit Rita’s diaries as a vengeful girl’s fantasies, of course. Rita responds dramatically by brandishing her father’s pistol in open court and spouting idiotically that it’s true that diaries may sometimes contain fantasies but guns only contain bullets, and this gun, that belonged to her father and brother was used to commit crimes. Meaning, she has a grown as a person by realizing her father and brother were just as bad as the men she’d brought to court for revenge. But now she wants justice. And now she knows the difference.
Except Amenta fails to convey just how Rita comes to this epiphany. Nary 20 minutes prior, we see Rita (who has a fiancé she left behind in the mob) gallivanting on a beach with a new romantic interest. Something about the way everything is presented makes me feel like Rita is only tattling on the Mafia because they pissed her off. Not because she was a hero of justice and human rights as Amenta’s film would have us believe.
That’s not to say the Mafia shouldn’t have been taken to task—it’s just that Rita’s story is hardly a tale about a girl doing the right thing. And while this may sound like a more compelling reason to see the film, it’s not, because Amenta desperately tries to paint her as doing so. Amenta’s first feature was actually a 1997 documentary about Rita, known as One Girl Against the Mafia (Diario di una Siciliana Ribelle). While I haven’t seen this documentary, I’d assume that it would have sat better with me as it would not include Veronica D’Agostino’s blanching screen presence.
The film’s anamorphic transfer looks alright, but at times the film seemed to move slowly during camera pans that tend to give it a televised quality. Also, the cinematography isn’t enhanced here as Rita’s surroundings in Sicily seem bleak and ominous. While it’s noted that Sicilians tend to wear rather drab, black clothing, even scenes where Rita is frolicking on a beach outside Palermo with a new love interest seem isolated, chilly, and desolate. There are virtually no special features beyond miscellaneous trailers. A supposed Behind-the-Scenes featurette listed was not available on the screener, though this would have been illuminating, especially concerning why Amenta exactly was so moved by Rita’s story to make both a documentary, and over a decade later, a feature film.
Marcos Amenta’s The Sicilian Girl presents us with one of those “based on a true story” stories that, unfortunately, is far from compelling and anything but laudable. Amenta received a nomination for Best Director at the 2009 David di Donatello Awards and The Sicilian Girl was also nominated for Best Italian Film and it also won Best Film and Best Actress at the Miami Sicilian Film Festival. Though the film has received decent reviews and a lukewarm, if not sometimes negative reception, I can only hope that Amenta’s future projects aren’t so message laden and poorly constructed. While it may have a seemingly noteworthy subject matter, The Sicilian Girl is as trite as television movie of the week and reads as a narrative about a girl that tattled because she felt entitled to better treatment for her family.