Even if Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” hadn’t dramatically raised the bar for mafioso movies, “The Sicilian Girl” would have repped a mediocre entry in the Cosa Nostra canon and a waste of an extraordinary true story. This is Marco Amenta’s second film (the first was a documentary) about Rosa Atria, the 17-year-old who in 1991 broke the Omerta — the Sicilian code of silence — testifying against the organization that killed her father and brother, themselves Mafia members. Opening Aug. 4 at Gotham’s Film Forum, uninspired pic seems better suited, aesthetically and kinetically, to smallscreen play.
Amenta opens his film by detailing the alliance between 8-year-old Rita (Miriana Faja) and her handsome, soft-spoken, aristocratic-looking father, Don Michele (Marcello Mazzarella), a kinder, gentler mafioso who adores Rita and encourages her outspoken fearlessness. The intro’s traumatic setpiece, the death of the father, finds Rita in her white communion dress circling the village square on her bicycle, then throwing herself on her father’s bullet-ridden body and screaming for help as townfolk hurriedly shut their doors and windows. Though the scene possesses all the elements necessary for strong emotional impact, it unfolds with a lack of dynamism or momentum.
That lack of impetus can be felt throughout the film, as even dynamite plot twists fail to propel the pic forward. Bent on revenge, little Rita carefully notes the Mafia’s illegal activities, writing them down in a series of diaries. When her brother (Carmelo Galati), too, is murdered, Rita, now 17 (and played by Veronica D’Agostino), approaches the special prosecutor (dubbed French thesp Gerard Jugnot) with the detailed evidence she has gathered.
Reviled by her mother (Lucia Sardo), treated as a traitor by fellow villagers, fearful, isolated Rita is transported to a series of safe houses in Rome, whose modern urbanity is vividly contrasted with Sicily’s unchanged tribal allegiances. She forms a bond with the prosecutor, based on what starts out as a thirst for vengeance and morphs into a crusade for justice, as Rita begins see her culture and her clan through disillusioned eyes. Amenta sketchily sets up a contrast between their bond and the prosecutor’s troubled relationship with his own daughter, but never follows through. Similarly, a not-quite-romance with a handsome cop (Paolo Briguglia) hazily mirrors Rita’s love affair with a childhood friend and active mobster (Francesco Casisa).
Though the pic gains authenticity by tapping into Atria’s actual thoughts and words, Amenta relies too heavily on pure fact to shore up his narrative arc, using fiction to fill holes in the intrigue rather than to intensify or multiply its resonant threads. Thesps, though earnest and convincing, never quite galvanize the biopic skeletons they inhabit. Nowhere else does “The Sicilian Girl” attain the emotional heights conveyed in its curtain-closing montage of actual footage of Atria.