“The camera changed my life,” says Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, the incredibly compelling subject of veteran documentarian Kim Longinotto’s “Shooting the Mafia.” Before Battaglia picked up a camera at age 40, she was a teenage bride who raised three daughters and endured a rocky marriage. When she walked into the local newspaper in her hometown of Palermo, Sicily, looking for work, she found her calling as a photojournalist, chronicling the Mafia War in Sicily and its high-profile trials.
Longinotto’s film is a rollicking depiction of the wonderfully self-possessed Battaglia. Her life and work are animated in her ruminations, archival footage, and photos, with marriage melodrama mirroring the ups and downs of her own fascinating love life. After her divorce, Battaglia had several long relationships with men decades younger than she was, also photographers, with whom she collaborated.
Battaglia is so driven by her passion for her work that she laments the photos she was unable to take, such as the aftermath of the bombings that killed anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. She speaks candidly about the trauma endured by the police, as well as the photographers who captured images of the bodies and blood in the streets.
But even when the subject is death, Battaglia’s work manages to contain movement and life. Her photographs are arresting, confrontational and always humane, a reflection of the woman herself, who was willing to challenge every restriction that these violently patriarchal norms threw her way. By the end of Longinotto’s inspiring film, you’ll understand Letizia’s former lovers who just couldn’t stay away: it’s all too easy to fall in love with her spirit.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 22, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles