The Sicilian Girl is based on the true story of Rita Atria, the 17-year-old daughter of a slain Sicilian Cosa Nostra boss and sister to his dead son, who in 1991 collaborated with anti-Mafia police investigators. Her police mentor was Paolo Borsellino, who was tragically murdered by car bomb in retribution for his role in attempting to bring the Mafia to trial. The film attempts to portray the experiences and impressions that may lead a loyal young daughter of the Mafia to decide to renounce even her own family in pursuit of justice.
Unfortunately, The Sicilian Girl doesn’t quite do its subjects the justice they deserve. Their incredible stories of bravery and heroism – in spite of an enemy who will seemingly stop at nothing – demand nothing less than a stellar film, and director Marco Amenta’s take falls short of that lofty requirement. The problems start with the lead character of Rita, who is written and played (by Veronica D’Agostino) in such a manner as to be precocious and annoying. As is usual with biopics, it is hard to blame the filmmakers for representing a flawed character honestly, as this is demanded by both the form and those who knew her in reality. However, there is little to attract the audience in the portrayal of either young or young adult Rita.
When the film is so focussed on the burdens Rita inherits, that her character is difficult to access makes the film hard to appreciate. That her later actions are commendable is not in question, but the barrier between her and the audience is difficult – and ultimately too difficult – for Amenta to overcome. D’Agostino certainly achieves a level of obnoxious behaviour for Rita that she must have been directed to strive for, and can’t be blamed for the problem the audience may face in appreciating her efforts. In fact, she is especially good in a difficult role.
Gérard Jugnot gives strong support in the role of Italian national hero Borsellino, and is often the perfect counterpoint to Rita’s more histrionic moments. Jugnot lends Borsellino a quiet dignity infused with a moral urgency that means he really does come across as the hero he is felt to be. Lucia Sardo nails her performance as the conflicted widow and mother, although she is limited by a relatively one-dimensional role.
The early sequences do a wonderful job of setting the scene in the mid 1980s, with the scenes depicting the relationship between Rita and her father Don Michele (Marcello Mazzarella) especially strong. The mafia lifestyle of the period is powerfully portrayed, and the importance of these early sequences in providing the basis for what follows can’t be underestimated.
The film finishes with what seems to be archival footage of the public response to the stories of Atria and Borsellino, lending an air of authenticity to this biopic that it almost does enough to deserve. Its flaws may frustrate some viewers, and The Sicilian Girl will always struggle to overcome the problem of having such a difficult protagonist, however the importance of the subjects should not be undervalued.Rating: