Based on the true story of Rita Atria, a rural Italian teenager who blew the whistle on dangerous mafia mobsters terrorizing her town, Marco Amenta’s The Sicilian Girl (La Siciliana Ribelle) is a partly fictionalized tragic tale of extraordinary courage up against overwhelming odds. Delving into a spunky adolescent’s solo face-off against local organized crime taking an ugly turn into the drug trade during the 1980s, The Sicilian Girl is a refreshing break from all those cookie cutter blockbuster simplistic fantasy superheroes cluttering theaters right now, in its multi-layered tribute portrait of a flesh and blood brave young woman, warts and all.
Veronica D”Agostino is Rita, a provincial teen who as a schoolgirl on her Holy Communion day, witnessed her adored mafiosi dad being gunned down in the village square by a rival clan. Several years later, her brother and only sibling suffers the same fate, as the two vow vengeance against the crimelord assassin.
For years, Rita records in secret diaries the many criminal activities of her sworn enemy, the town godfather who is aware of her resentment, but dismissive of a youngster’s rage. And when Rita learns of an investigation opening in the city of Palermo into Sicilian mafia activities, she travels there armed with her diaries. At first met with skepticism by prosecutor Paolo Borsellino (Gerard Jugnot), Rita is eventually afforded shelter in the witness protection program, after her diaries are read and reveal enormously incriminating evidence potentially leading to mass arrests and trials.
The dramatic and emotional power infusing this film resides not in its crime thriller elements, but rather the astonishing gifts and raw talent of actress Veronica D’Agostino as she immerses herself in this confused and tortured soul. For in her obsession for revenge through the only path available – law enforcement – Rita is unable to confront the inextricable criminal legacy of her own father within the judicial process.
Add to that the unbearable loneliness and isolation when forced into solitary hiding, rejection by her own mother as an outcast when she breaks the ‘omerta’ Sicilian code of silence, and a toxic mix of heroism and rebellious raging teen hormones, for a resulting simultaneous devastating and intoxicating gritty cinematic brew. Not to mention that most rare of screen species hard to come by in movies, however reckless – the female hero challenging entrenched male authority.
And while certain narrative elements are fleeting and without sufficient explanation, such as the contrasting notion of Rita’s father as a somewhat ‘virtuous’ mafiosi, or the benefits derived by the population beyond intimation and fear, that have secured such adamant loyalty. But these weaknesses pale in comparison to the penetrating charismatic aura of the real Rita throughout, and her encapsulating words as postcript:
‘Maybe an honest world will never exist. But what’s to stop us from dreaming. If each one of us tries to change, maybe we’ll succeed.’
Music Box Films
3 1/2 [out of 4] stars