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Movie Review

The Sicilian Girl

‘Sicilian Girl’ could use more of heroine’s fire

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / September 24, 2010

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‘The Sicilian Girl’’ is a fictionalized telling of the story of Rita Atria, a 17-year-old who stunned Italy in 1991 by publicly breaking the Mafia’s code of silence and testifying against the men who killed her father and brother. For this, she was shunned by her community and her own family; the subject of constant death threats, she lived in isolation under an assumed name for the duration of the trial. Her only contact was with the judge in the case, Paolo Borsellino, whom she came to see as a father figure.

It’s a rich story of justice vying against a system of omerta so deeply ingrained it has become genetic. Ironically, writer-director Marco Amenta does neither the subject nor Atria justice with this acceptable, uninspired dramatization. Amenta made a 1997 documentary on the subject, and it’s unclear what has drawn him back to the subject other than to get closer to an uncommonly tough young woman’s emotional state. Fair enough, but, as filmed, not close enough.

That woman — named Rita Mancuso in the film — is played by Miriana Faja as a 10-year-old and by Veronica D’Agostino seven years later; both actresses project the pugnacious defiance of born street fighters. Young Rita adores her father (Marcello Mazzarella), the courtlier and more ethical of the village’s two power players, and when he’s gunned down by his rival (Mario Pupella), she and her older brother (Carmelo Galati) bide their time. They don’t bide it long enough; soon it’s only Rita.

The opening scenes of “The Sicilian Girl’’ are a rich portrait of rural life constrained by generations of silence and obedience; quarrels are settled and bad elements like a sleazy landowner named Bellafiore (Salvatore Schembari) are dispatched without resort to the police or other outsiders. When the teenage Rita takes her diaries, with their meticulous observations of the mob’s comings and goings, and disappears into the court’s witness protection program, she becomes a pariah. Unfortunately, that’s when the movie starts to lose steam.

D’Agostino is a fearsome presence, but she needs other characters to bounce off — her two-faced weakling of a boyfriend (Francesco Casisa), a young Roman man (Primo Reggiani) who befriends her. The relationship with the fictionalized judge (Gerard Jugnot) is touching but the film only catches fire in the scenes with the girl’s mother (Giusi Cataldo), whose bitter rivalry with her daughter spills into fury when Rita crosses over.

“The Sicilian Girl’’ ends with a curious whimper instead of the bang it has been pointing toward; the filmmaker’s reverence for his heroine seems to bind his hands. What in theory is a story of the conflict between family honor and larger justice, between the blood ties of a community and the lifeblood of a nation, has been bloodlessly brought to the screen.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

THE SICILIAN GIRL

Directed by: Marco Amenta

Written by: Amenta, Sergio Donati, and Gianni Romoli

Starring: Veronica D’Agostino, Gerard Jugnot, Francesco Casisa, Mario Pupella, Miriana Faja

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 115 minutes

Unrated (as PG-13: Cosa Nostra violence, some sexuality and language)

In Italian, with subtitles

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