Lyda Patitucci, whose first feature “Like Sheep Among Wolves” is launching from the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Harbor section, represents a rare case of an Italian female filmmaker who cut her teeth in the genre movie trenches.

Her extensive experience prior to her debut comprises being a second unit director, specialized in action scenes, on films such as Matteo Rovere’s drag race drama “Italian Race” and on Rovere’s non conventional ancient Rome origins epic “The First King.” Patitucci has also directed several episodes of supernatural Netflix Italian original series “Curon.”

In “Like Sheep Among Wolves,” the protagonist is an intrepid female undercover police agent named Vera who infiltrates a dangerous Serbian syndicate in Rome’s criminal underworld and wins the trust of its kingpins. All seems to be going right in the leadup to her big bust until – just as she is about to set up the gang for arrest – Vera spots her younger brother Bruno mixed in with these gangsters.

The film, produced by Rome’s Groenlandia with backing from RAI Cinema, has what Patitucci calls “A two-sided soul.” One the one hand, there is the “genre atmosphere and tension,” and “a certain amount of violence, when this tension mounts.”

On the other hand, “What’s most important for me is character and obviously the film’s protagonist [Vera, played by Isabella Ragonese] who becomes its catalyst and the main prism through which the story is told,” she says. Then there is the fact “that I really want to see, and therefore put on the screen, stories centered around female characters in which women are placed within contexts where we are used to identifying with a male world,” Patitucci adds.

Maybe, the director points out, this is “because most directors in Italy are male, so it comes more natural to them to explore their own psychology,” she says.

Having had other moviemaking experiences in the past, “Like Sheep Among Wolves” was finally the film in which Patitucci could shape characters her way. Upon reading the script, which is written by Filippo Gravino (“Romulus”), the director was “struck by lightening,” she says. She realized that, even though she didn’t write the screenplay, “It really resonated with me and I knew I could shape these characters exactly how I wanted,” she noted.

Patitucci praised the film’s cast which, besides Ragonese comprises Andrea Arcangeli as her brother Bruno, Carolina Michelangeli, Gennaro Di Colandrea, Aleksandar Gavranić and veteran Italian theater actor Tommaso Ragno.

She said both Ragonese and Arcangeli did lots of research and physical prep for their roles. Ragonese learned Serbian in order for Vera to interact credibly with Serbian criminals.

After focusing on technical aspects of directing and specializing in action scenes, “for the first time I had this amazing opportunity to finally really work with actors on a character-driven film,” she notes.

“And I am very satisfied with where this journey led me.”