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Review: ‘The Sicilian Girl’

Popular SDIFF Film Gets Theatrical Release

Rita (Veronica D’Agostino) in

Credit: Music Box Films

Above: Rita (Veronica D’Agostino) in "The Sicilian Girl"


KPBS film critic Beth Accomando looks at the new Italian film "The Sicilian Girl."


“The Sicilian Girl” had a sold out screening at the San Diego Italian Film Festival’s Anti-Mafia Film Series earlier this year. Now the film is receiving a theatrical release. I spoke with Clarissa Clo, SDSU associate professor and San Diego Italian Film Festival board member about the film, which is based on a true story. You can listen to our discussion.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films

Young Rita (Miriana Faja) and Don Michele (Marcello Mazzarella).

Rita Atria was born into a Mafia family in Sicily. As a result she had little respect for the police who occasionally came by to try and solve crimes in her village. In 1985, when she was eleven years old, her father was gunned down by fellow mafiosi. Even as a little girl she wanted revenge but her brother advised caution and patience. But six years later her brother was also killed by the Mafia.

So at the tender age of 17, Rita decided to defy the tradition of omerta, the Mafia’s code of silence, and go to the police. The true story of Rita Atria serves as the basis for “The Sicilian Girl.” Marco Amenta’s film is a straight-ahead but engrossing police procedural that chronicles Rita’s story. She is disowned by her family, threatened by the Mafia, and uncertain of Italy’s justice system. But she persists in her vendetta against the mob, and along the way learns the difference between revenge and justice.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films

The Judge (Gérard Jugnot).

SDSU associate professor Clarissa Clo says the film was selected for the San Diego Italian Film Festival’s Anti-Mafia Film Series in part because it focused on a female character. The more common narrative is of men fighting against the Mafia. It’s also set at a pivotal point in Italy’s fight against crime syndicates.

CLARISSA CLO: Well the turning point in Italian politics and in the fight against the Mafia was the assassination of two judges that were making a lot of progress in the fight against the Mafia and those killings really provoked a huge outrage in Italy and in the following years, there have been a younger generation of judges -- and I have to say especially women -- who stood up and not many are willing and are willing still to go to Sicily and participate in what they call these 'Maxi Trials' against Mafiosi and I would say that is the context and that’s what is relevant to the film.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films

Rita (Veronica D’Agostino).

Clo sees Rita as a kind of modern Antigone struggling with divided loyalties. Rita grew up in a Mafia family but felt betrayed when her father was killed. When she turns to the police for help, they suspect her motives while her mother disowns her.

CLARISSA CLO: She does get to be disavowed and rejected by her mother who belongs to a different generation of women who still believe in the protection that Mafia offers in an environment where so few other resources exist.

The film shows how the Mafia is woven into the fabric of everyday life. It doesn’t show this with quite the same intricate detail as the recent film “Gomorrah” but it does make clear how deeply rooted the Mafia was in Rita’s village. When the arrests come down from Rita’s evidence, we see her hometown being cleared out of its men and even some officials.

Clo says Rita chooses to rebel against what’s accepted, and the more accurate translation for the film’s Italian title is actually “The Sicilian Rebel.”

CLARISSA CLO: Rebel of in the Italian title sort of draws some connection with the lineage of rebels, Sicilian women who are often not singled out but are part of a movement and have been present in the fabric of Sicilian society for a long time and I think in that sense it is important to acknowledge the rebellious aspect of the title and of the character who is one but can stand for a number of other women who have decided enough is enough.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Music Box Films

Director Marco Amenta.

In real life, Rita’s sister-in-law had preceded her in going to the police and speaking out against the Mafia. Filmmaker Marco Amenta had previously made a documentary about Rita and her sister-in-law before creating the narrative feature “The Sicilian Girl.” Both films offer a rare focus on women actively challenging the Mafia.

"The Sicilian Girl" is unrated and in Italian with English subtitles.

Companion viewing: "Diario di una siciliana ribelle," "Excellent Cadavers" (SDIFF is showing this on 9/30 at MoPA), "The Godfather III"

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