A Sicilian woman laments another shooting victim in this 1980 photograph by Letizia Battaglia. Italian photojournalist Battaglia is the subject of the documentary “Shooting the Mafia.” (Letizia Battaglia/Cohen Media)
Reporter

Rating: (2 stars)

The documentary “Shooting the Mafia” is, according to the distributor’s press materials, a portrait of a remarkable woman.

To be sure, its ostensible subject is the now 84-year-old Letizia Battaglia, who bears the honor of being the first female photojournalist to work for an Italian daily newspaper: the leftist L’Ora, known for its investigative reporting on the Sicilian Mafia in Battaglia’s native Palermo, until going out of business in 1992. Battaglia, sporting ostentatiously dyed hair that ranges from red to almost purple — and an almost ever-present cigarette — reminisces about her career, in interviews scattered throughout the film. “Mafia” also includes appearances by several of her ex-lovers, along with archival footage, culled from old movies, that is used to illustrate moments from her past. (Apropos of nothing, the song “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blue (Volare)” appears twice, in different versions. )

Most gratifying — if also gruesome — are the many examples of Battaglia’s powerful photographs of Mafia victims. Although black-and-white, they are deeply disturbing, and it is easy to imagine that Battaglia found the work difficult. Imagination is necessary, because Battaglia herself doesn’t provide the deep introspection you might expect.

But for long periods of time, the woman herself disappears almost entirely from the film, even in voice-over, as it becomes more of a standard history of the rise and fall of La Cosa Nostra (literally, “our thing,” as the Italian Mafia is known). The 1975 arrest and imprisonment of such mobsters as Luciano Leggio (called Liggio in the film, as he was commonly known, because of a typo on paperwork) is dealt with, along with the 1992 assassinations of Giovanni Falcone, a crusading anti-Mafia judge, and his colleague Paolo Borsellino, mere months later.

This history is not without interest, and it gives double meaning to the film’s title, suggesting that the film is just as much about the struggle to put the Mob out of commission as it is about photography. You’ll come out of the film knowing as much about the Sicilian Mafia — maybe more — than the photographer who made her name shooting it.

Unrated. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains bloody crime-scene photos, slaughterhouse images, disturbing subject matter, brief coarse language, nudity and smoking. in Italian with subtitles. 94 minutes.