“Omerta” is an Italian term for the Mafia’s code of silence, but the word “code” isn’t sufficient in describing what it means, since it isn’t something collectively agreed upon so much as brutally enforced by intimidation and murder. It’s little wonder that Rita Atria, a 17-year-old girl who tried to take on the Sicilian mob single-handedly, was dismissed as “crazy,” possessed by a thirst for revenge that clouded her better judgment. A solid, no-frills dramatization of her story, The Sicilian Girl underlines the courage of doing the right thing, which is a kind of madness, too, given the mob’s power and omnipresence. Though not nearly as rich as Gomorrah—which revealed, thread by thread, the mob’s presence in the fabric of everyday life—the film delves into the wrenching difficulties of Atria’s case, and the lengths she had to go to find justice.
The Sicilian Girl opens in 1985, when Rita (Veronica D’Agostino) was a young girl who idolized her father (Marcello Mazzarella), a man highly respected in the small seaside community they called home. What she didn’t know—or choose to acknowledge—at the time was that the respect reflected her father’s own entrenchment in Mafia dealings, though his refusal to participate in the drug trade ultimately got him killed. When Rita’s brother, also a mob member, was killed six years later, she decided to turn over her testimony and diaries to fierce anti-mob judge Paolo Borsellino (Gérard Jugnot), who kept her in protective custody.
Director Marco Amenta, who previously recounted Atria’s story in the 2006 documentary One Girl Against The Mafia: Diary Of A Sicilian Rebel, articulates the stakes and implications of her case clearly, though artlessly, and establishes a tenuous but ultimately touching bond between Rita and the judge. Beyond her immediate security concerns, the film exposes an even deeper stress in her tortured relationship to family, both in the necessary difficulty of Rita recognizing her father and brother as killers, and her mother’s bitter disapproval. She was simultaneously a pariah and a marked woman, and Amenta respectfully honors her quixotic, deeply lonely quest for justice.