Shooting The Mafia

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Shooting The Mafia
"Longinotto has always had a knack for getting interviewees to open up in such a way that even they can seem surprised at what they end up saying." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Shooting The Mafia marks a departure for Kim Longinotto, who has previously been most strongly associated with taking a deep dive into specific communities, largely via observational work and interview, including Dreamcatcher, Salma and Pink Saris.

Here she turns more to archive footage to consider the life and work of photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, who might be considered a kindred spirit of the director, as she has spent the past 40 years documenting poverty and the brutality of the Mafia in Sicily, with a particular focus on the situation for women. Like last year's Camorra - which looked at the cycle of poverty and organised crime in Naples - Longinotto uses extensive stills photography and archive film footage from across the decades. This is interesting to a degree but the film's chief selling point is the interviews with Battaglia, and we miss her every time she's off screen for too long.

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The 84-year-old is refreshingly up front about her life and her work. Longinotto has always had a knack for getting interviewees to open up in such a way that even they can seem surprised at what they end up saying, and that's in evidence again here - as when Battaglia finds herself considering the photos she didn't take as "the ones that hurt me most". "I miss them," she adds.

And Longinotto also knows when to hang back and catch the interaction between Battaglia and some of the men who have been in her life down the years. As one puts it, "She attracted men like fly paper" - the clear affection between the two of them still evident after all these years.

The details of how Battaglia fell into the trade after the collapse of her marriage prove fascinating and when she says "the camera changed my life" it isn't an overstatement. There's a sense of the photographer being primed to rebel against the patriarchal environment she grew up in, under the heavy hand of her father, and there's no doubting the striking images she has caught down the years - whether of mothers in poverty or the aftermath of Mafia hits. That she cares deeply about her work is obvious in the level of remembered detail about each of her photos she is able to tell Longinotto about and there's also an enjoyable amount of ephemera, like her trick of the trade of coughing when she took photos in order to mask the click of the camera. Although, occasionally threatening to drift too far from its subject for its own good, this is a welcome portrait of a woman, who has lived a strongly feminist life, perhaps without even fully realising it.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2019
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Profile of Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia.

Director: Kim Longinotto

Year: 2019

Runtime: 97 minutes


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If you like this, try:

Camorra