COMPELLING but rather awkward, The Sicilian Girl is based on the story of Rita Atria. In the early 1990s, Atria was an important witness against the Mafia during the Italian government’s campaign against the crime families. What works in director Marco Amenta’s fictionalized film and what doesn’t work separate like oil and vinegar. Weaknesses of direction occur throughout: a woman pantomiming terror followed by obvious relief after an unexpected knock on the door, and we are treated to a favorite crime-movie cliché: cutting from the pulling of a trigger to a flock of birds rising, scattered by the sound of a gunshot.
Ultimately, The Sicilian Girl is recommendable because of its star. As 17-year-old Rita Mancuso, Veronica D’Agostino is an unusual actress. She is a plain, stocky girl with a big jaw who dresses in conservative black, even when she is in witness protection in Rome. D’Agostino is the type we don’t get in the movies much since Minnie Driver stopped nabbing lead roles. D’Agostino is believable as a girl of great purpose, with the kind of gravity that draws the attention of men. One boyfriend says, “I think you’re cute,” as if he’s surprised to think that when he looks at her. Her first meeting with a Mafia-fighting court prosecutor (Gérard Jugnot, a benignly beaverish figure) came when she was 6 years old (Miriana Faja plays the young Rita). Now that she’s grown up, the prosecutor has his own fear that Rita has been too tainted with the Mafia life ever to really turn against it.
The film boasts some intelligent twists and paranoia: Mario Pupello is formidable as the local chief Don Salvo. The opening sequence—a story of Rita as a child defacing the family bed sheets with spaghetti sauce while she’s learning to write—seems like an odd tale. But it makes sense later when we see Rita washing the bloody laundry of her own family in public.
The trial scene takes place at the vast anti-Mafia fortress court in Palermo, with the dangerous suspects jailed up at the back of the room. Instead of walking to her seat, surrounded by the phalanx of cops, Rita breaks away for The Sicilian Girl‘s finest moment. She walks by the cells. She starts to pick up her pace, and then she catches herself and deliberately slows her walk, like someone trying to overcome a fear of lions in the zoo. The task of extricating the Mafia from Italy continues, but the movie doesn’t raise any false hopes. All it does is celebrate the bravery of a woman who did her best to fight these parasites.
The Sicilian Girl
Unrated; 115 min.