Academic journal article Italica

Re-Membering Rita Atria: Gender, Testimony, and Witnessing in the Documentary Diario Di Una Siciliana Ribelle *

Academic journal article Italica

Re-Membering Rita Atria: Gender, Testimony, and Witnessing in the Documentary Diario Di Una Siciliana Ribelle *

Article excerpt

A delicate subject: Bring the dead back to life and make the living speak.

--Marco Amenta

In the summer of 1992, as millions of Italians reeled amidst despair and outrage at Cosa Nostra's horrific slayings of Judges Giovanni Falcone, Francesca Morvillo, Paolo Borsellino, and their body guards, (1) news of another tragic death broke in the press. On July 26, Rita Atria, an eighteen-year-old collaboratrice della giustizia from Partanna, had thrown herself to her death from the seventh-floor balcony of her safehouse in Rome. Capturing the hearts and imaginations of many among the Italian public, Rita Atria's life story has inspired a rich array of works, such as Sandra Rizza's biography Una ragazza contro la mafia, Gabriello Montemagno's play Il sogno spezzato di Rifa Atria, and poetry. Among such texts, Marco Amenta's internationally acclaimed 1997 documentary Diario di una siciliana ribelle warrants particular attention. It makes a visually and intellectually provocative contribution to the field of commemorative discourses dedicated to the memory of Rita Atria, which crafts her as a national symbol of courage, the struggle for freedom and justice, and hope. Furthermore, the content and documentary practices designed to re-member Rita Atria as a symbol of women's rebellion against the mafia and a new "anti-mafia era" in Italian history (2) offer a significant example of a broader phenomenon of engaged textual production in film and the other arts of the 1990s, which critiques romanticized images of the mafia and, in some cases, also creates models for a culture of social change. Such works include, for instance, Margarette Von Trotta's documentary Il lungo silenzio and Ricky Tognazzi's film La scorta, Maria Rosa Cutrufelli's novel Canto al deserto: storia di Tina, soldato di mafia, and Letizia Battaglia's photographs collected in Passion Justice Freedom. Photographs of Sicily. While participating in this discursive field, Amenta's work also raises complex issues concerning gender and how it figures in the documentary fashioning of the (auto)biographical testimony, memory, witnessing, and spectatorship.

A fascinating example of contemporary Italian documentary, Amenta's retelling of Rita Atria's life story, which spans the years of her childhood through the aftermath of her death, features a variety of components that blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction film. It is thus typical of recent documentary practice and theory in Italy. In fact, as writings by Marco Bertozzi, Enrica Colusso, Ilaria Freccia, and Gianfranco Pannone (3) suggest, a prominent trend in documentary filmmaking cultivates the permeable borders the genre shares with fiction film. Shifting away from contenutismo toward "invenzione linguistica, creativita" (Pannone 34), practitioners of what is also called cinema dei reale, cinema della realta, or documentario di creazione demonstrate a predilection for narrative and poetic forms, heightened attention to the aesthetic value of images, evocative strategies of montage, and styles developed in fiction filmmaking. Amenta's Diario di una siciliana ribelle displays several of these tendencies. The film includes eyewitness accounts provided by family and officers of the justice system, home movies, family photographs, and archival footage--typical fare in documentary. These are woven together with often creative reconstructions of events the witness may have experienced; a suggestive image track shot in styles ranging from photographic realism to noir; and performance sequences that feature a Sicilian storyteller who sets key points of Atria's tale to song, with his acoustic guitar and dramatic gesture. Most important, however, are the prominent roles that Amenta assigns to various forms of testimonial writings produced by Rita Atria, including her diary, an autobiography she was composing, and her legal testimony as state's witness, which provide the film's primary point of view and unifying narrative structure. …

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