The new attitude about organized crime in and around the Mediterranean, historically hush-hush but now ever-so-slightly opening up (see: the book and movie Gomorrah), is in part thanks to Rita Atria. A 17-year-old Sicilian whose Mafia-connected father and brother were both rubbed out, she decided two decades ago to break the Omertà—the code of silence enforced by intimidation both latent and not-so-latent to keep people from turning rat. It was a simultaneously brave and reckless decision, as Marco Amenta’s calm docudrama sees it.
Played as a young scamp by Mariana Faja and a perpetually sneering teen by Veronica D’Agostino, Rita is initially more about vendetta than justice. She storms into the offices of noted anti-mob prosecutor Paolo Borsellino (Gérard Jugnot) with a pile of diaries and notes and a brave disregard for her own safety, but she hasn’t fully thought through the possibilities for collateral damage. There’s her widowed mother, who joins the townsfolk in rebuffing her decision; as Rita winds up in witness protection, memorizing a new past, her letters and calls home go unanswered. Then there’s the life of the now extra-targeted Borsellino, with whom Rita forges an ad-hoc father-daughter relationship. And maybe she shouldn’t be starting that relationship with that nice boy. Not to say that The Sicilian Girl is down on Rita’s decision—Amenta also directed a 1997 doc on the subject, making him something of an expert, and he reports the story clear-eyed, but sympathetic to his self-made martyr.
But this is just-the-facts-ma’am filmmaking. Perfunctorily shot with a gawky, unpolished lead who gets better as the film goes on, it cries out for a stylist, a filmmaker better at conveying Rita’s isolation and horrible loneliness, or even someone simply up for digging deeper into how mobs keep places like Sicily in lockdown. Instead, it gives you just the right amount of nuance and exploration to remain interesting without ever becoming mind-blowing. (Think Marco Bellochio’s enjoyably bombastic Mussolini-lovechild docudrama Vincere.) It is, as they say, good enough to make you wish it was better.
"Twice Born" is one too many