Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 15, 2020)
Given its title, one might expect 2019’s Shooting the Mafia to provide a violent crime drama. Instead, it brings us a documentary about a photojournalist.
In Sicily circa the 1970s, 40-year-old Letizia Battaglia decides to become a photojournalist. As she builds her talent, her focus shifts toward more serious subjects.
Where she lived, that meant the Mafia, as that organization dominated many aspects of daily life. Battaglia fixes her camera on this group, with the threats that comes along with this choice.
Now in her 80s, most of the commentary in this documentary comes from Battaglia herself. We also hear from her assistant Maria Chiara, photographers/Battaglia’s former lovers Franco and Santi, and journalist Eduardo. (For reasons unknown, the filmmakers don’t credit the last names of those men.)
In addition to the interviews, we get ample evidence of Battaglia’s work. We also see home film footage from her life and topic-related domains.
As I went into Shooting, I expected a revealing documentary about a courageous photojournalist and the ramifications of her work. I didn’t get that.
Instead, Shooting brings us a sloppy mess of a documentary, a film with a nearly complete lack of focus. Though Battaglia’s life and career frames the story, matters flit around so much that the result becomes a nearly incomprehensible slog.
For much of the movie’s first half, it concentrates on Battaglia’s life and career, but it does so with little consistency. We find seemingly endless comments about Battaglia’s beauty and her romances, all of which fall into “who cares?” territory.
While these scenes should add complexity to Battaglia and allow us to understand why she did what she did, they don’t. We just find a superficial view of her life with precious little effort to dig deeper.
Much of this seems to stem from Battaglia’s reluctance to examine her past in this way. When the film prods her to discuss issues, she complains and demurs.
Perhaps director Kim Longinotto fought with Battaglia about her refusal to comment on important areas, but as depicted here, we see no resistance to her. This leaves us with a film that doesn’t find much depth in its lead subject, so we get precious few insights about Battaglia.
As Shooting progresses, it delves more into the world of the Mafioso, but it also falters in that department. This topic demands a full documentary of its own, not just a half-hearted summary.
Matters suffer even more because Shooting gives us so little context and it rushes through the material so rapidly. We get only the most superficial overview of the criminal figures and their importance before the movie progresses to something else.
As a biography, Shooting fails because we learn so little of import about its subject, and the film never offers an insightful look at other domains. Loose to the degree of pointlessness, this becomes a weak documentary.