Italy has struggled in recent decades to recapture the film glory of Cinecittà. The infrequency of quality films from the country that once put everyone else to shame with its bold and innovative productions is rather saddening. So when a film like The Sicilian Girl comes along, it really floors you, or at least me anyway since I have something of an obsession with my Italian heritage. But even for those who have no kindred ties to the country, this movie will still affect you in a pointed and incisive way. The ubiquitousness of the mafia in Sicily at this particular time in history is something that everyone should be cognizant of, because factions--and the inescapable hopelessness wrought by those factions--can form anywhere.
The film opens in a choppy, overly edited manner, showing snippets of Rita (Veronica D'Agostino) as she reluctantly gives her father Michele's (played by Marcello Mazzarella) gun to her brother Carmelo (played by Carmelo Galati) so that he can use it to kill the man responsible for Michele's death, Don Salvo (I know, everyone has badass names, right?). After this brief introduction, we are taken back seven years to 1985, just before Michele was killed. At this time, Rita is twelve, still naive to the corrupt and crime-ridden world around her, in spite of the fact that Don Michele is at the forefront of this criminal activity. For all of Don Michele's underhanded dealings, there is no dubiousness about his love and affection for Rita, which is not something that can be said for Rita's mother, who seems to loathe her even in the innocence of childhood. One example is when Rita writes on one of the sheets that is hanging out to dry on the clothesline with tomato sauce. As Rita's mother chases after her to give her a beating, her father comes out onto the terrace to interfere. Rita tells him, "I'm learning to write." Don Michele turns to smile at his wife and say, "That's a good thing. Do you want her to be as ignorant as we are?"
The bond Rita has with her father is cut short after a run-in Don Michele has with another mafioso named Fiorebella, who intimates that the mafia is moving toward crime that is centered around drug trafficking. Even though Don Michele tries to squash that notion by killing Fiorebella in an intricate way that involves some rope, Don Salvo retaliates by having Don Michele killed in a public square of their small town just before Rita's communion. Rita is the only one who rushes to his side as everyone else retreats into their homes or shops to avoid becoming a party to the conflict. From this moment forward, Rita is consumed with avenging her father's death.
When Carmelo tells her that Don Salvo is responsible, she yells at him, saying he is a coward for not gunning him down on sight. But Carmelo convinces her that they must bide their time and wait for the right moment. It is at this juncture that the film flashes forward again to 1992. She and Carmelo anxiously sit at the table as their typically subservient mother glides in and out of the kitchen to bring them food. During her absences from the table, Carmelo excitedly tells Rita that the time has finally come: He is close enough to Don Salvo's clan to make a move. Rita shares his excitement but is uncertain about whether he should jump at such an uncertain chance. Carmelo cannot wait any longer, however, assuring Rita that everything will go as planned. So naturally, it doesn't. The next morning, Carmelo's body washes ashore and Rita's boyfriend Vito (played by Francesco Casisa) has to restrain her from killing Don Salvo on sight. Vito, who is also closely knit to Don Salvo's clan, betrays Rita by telling Don Salvo that Rita has gone to the chief prosecutor in Palermo to report the incident. To redeem himself though, Vito warns Rita that she must leave Sicily immediately.
Under the custody of the state, Rita is relocated to Rome under the new name of Silvia. More unsettled and dejected than ever, Rita has no one to turn to or confide in except the chief prosecutor who she risked everything to tell her story to. One of the best moments of Rita's voiceover occurs during this period of loneliness, when she remarks, "People say time heals your wounds. But it really just gives them time to grow deeper." Before justice can be administered, more carnage and loss must transpire in the already tragedian life of someone so young (Rita was seventeen years old in 1992).
True to the events that happened, writer-director Marco Amenta concludes the film with Rita's suicide. But before she jumps off the building of her fake apartment that belongs to her fake life under another fake identity (this time the witness protection program changes her name to Elena), she tells Vito, "This time, the mafia loses. This time, I win. Rita wins." It couldn't be a better way to state how much she sacrificed to take a stand against the sordid, cruel world of the mafia.