Sicilian-born director Marco Amenta is giving the mafia a new face in The Sicilian Girl. Based on the true story of Rita Atria, a 17-year-old girl who spoke out against the mafia after they killed her father and brother, Amenta has actually created a feature film adaptation of his own 1997 documentary One Girl Against the Mafia: Diary of a Sicilian Girl (Diario di una siciliana ribelle).
“The documentary had a lot of success around the world, it got a lot of prizes," Amenta says. "Because of this, I knew that the story was so powerful, and a feature film could reach more people…and I needed something more than documentary because I wanted to express the psychological journey of this girl.”
“For me it was important to have this other [avenue] of expression; [a] feature film can allow you to tell the story with the images, with silence, with the faces of the characters.”
For Australian audiences The Sicilian Girl may well seem reminiscent of the gritty portrayal of the Neapolitan mafia in Matteo Garrone’s Gommorah. In fact the two films were produced around the same time, “It means that probably there is a consciousness in [Italian] cinema to go towards realism, because we have seen so much fake[ness],” he says, “I mean there were great films like Godfather, and all the American films, with great cinematography and great actors, but [they are] a little bit fake because it’s too romanticised. [The mafia] became like heroes.”
“I grew up in Sicily and I was a photographer, so I know these people. [Garrone and I took] almost a journalistic approach, and we tried to portray real people and not copy the stereotype of the mafia world. Because a lot of films now take from [other] films, and copy from the archetype of the image that movies have created. So if you portray the mafia boss you have to look at Al Pacino.”
Amenta’s commitment to realism has seen him sued by members of the Sicilian Mafia. After his 2006 documentary about Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano The Ghost of Corleone (Il fantasma di Corleone), Amenta was taken to court, “They sued me because now the Sicilian mafia is more clever, he says. “They prefer not to threaten or to kill a journalist or director because they understand [it] is better for them to stay silent. The Camorra, [the Neapolitan mafia that threatened Gomorrah writer Roberto Saviano], that mafia is more aggressive, more primitive let’s say. The Sicilian mafia is more organized, [and] more wise because they saw as soon as they threaten or they kill, the public opinion is against them and the journalist has something to write about the mafia.”
This uneasy truce is at the heart of Amenta’s ‘love/hate’ relationship with his home country and the reason he sees Rita Atria’s remarkable story as, “metaphoric of a possible change.”“The hero is not a big mafia boss, actually the bosses are seen for what they are really, cowards, not big, courageous and charming men. The only courageous [person] is this little girl, who has the courage to fight against them [sic]. [Rita] changes values completely from starting [out as] the mafia girl, she [becomes] a normal girl who believes in justice.”