Marco Amenta’s potent, yet understated, tightly crafted first feature film, The Sicilian Girl is a fictionalized account loosely based on the life and journals of Rita Atria, the determined, 17 year old daughter of a slain mob boss whose death after her denunciation of the mafia would lead to her martyrdom as a symbol of the country’s ongoing war with organized crime. Interweaving the detailed observation of a court procedural with the drama and intrigue of a genre crime film, the convergence of fiction and reality becomes a metaphor for the heroine’s (also named Rita) metamorphosis from self-involved girl to social activist. Having once lived a seemingly idyllic life of privilege and respect as the coddled daughter of a well-connected, old world mafioso, Don Michele (Marcello Mazzarella), Rita’s teenaged years would be consumed with the thought of avenging her father’s death when he is gunned down in a public square at the orders of rival Don Salvo (Mario Pupella) during a power struggle to expand their reach into the drug trade. But when Rita’s older brother (Carmelo Galati) is also slain when the all-too-connected Don Salvio is tipped off about his plans for retribution, Rita turns to a thoughtful, hard-nosed prosecutor (Gérard Jugnot) for help – a character based on magistrate Paolo Borsellino – lodging a full-scale indictment of Don Salvo’s wide-reaching organization with the help of Rita’s meticulously detailed, years-long surveillance diaries of their operations. Illustrating the ingrained culture of regional disparity, chauvinism, corruption, and disenfranchisement, Amenta underscores fundamental social issues between Roman central authority and the local Sicilian population that contribute to the deep-seated friction and enable the broad reach of the mafia and its own inviolable codes. Also worth noting is lead actress Veronica D’Agostino’s compelling performance, navigating the complex trajectory of Rita’s tragic life from headstrong daughter, to obsessed avenger, to passive victim, and finally, to altruistic crusader.
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