Netflixable? Italy discovers American-style DNA-CSI with “Yara”

Today’s “Around the World with Netflix” outing is a “true crime” police procedural about the hunt for a missing Italian teen, and the precedent-setting steps a dogged prosecutor took to find her, and then arrest her killer and bring him to justice.

A decade after American TV debuted “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and years after the U.S began collecting and keeping a DNA database to help track down criminals, the Yara Gambirasio case riveted Italy and eventually forced an embattled investigator/prosecutor to bring her country into this millennium, and rely on this corner of advanced police forensics.

“Yara” won’t feel dazzling and new to anyone who remembers David Caruso yanking off his sunglasses or the darkened, production-designed labs of the many “CSI” spinoffs. But it’s intriguing as a peek into a different style of criminal justice, the back door way Italy joined this world of modern policing, and a better appreciation of this theoretical (not often employed, as any prosecutor will tell you) newest tool in the murder investigator’s tool bag.

Isabella Ragonese of “Somewhere Amazing (In un posto bellissimo)” stars as Letizia, a motorcycle-riding single mom and veteran of mafia prosecutions who takes on the case of the missing teen Yara.

We meet the prosecutor, a job that puts her in charge of police investigations of capital crimes, the day a model plane hobbyist finds 13 year-old Yara’s body, months after she disappeared on her way home from gymnastics class. A positive ID means that the winter-long hope that the missing girl might still be alive — kidnapped somewhere — gone.

Flashbacks take us to the snowy November 2010 night in which Yara brought her dance/gymnastics school a replacement boom box for its classes, and introduces us to her (Chiara Bono) voice. Yara kept a diary.

Director Marco Tullio Giordana and screenwriter Grazniano Diana tell this story through two timelines — one beginning the night of the disappearance, her parents’ prompt and tearful report that she’s overdue within hours of her not coming home — the other timeline in the film’s “present,” the investigation that finally gets some traction once the police have a body and a crime scene to investigate.

The diary, read in voice-over, produces red herrings — false trails that are pursued. The family is considered, a “crush” at school, a native-Arabic speaking “foreigner” working at the construction site where the body becomes a person of interest. This police procedural emphasizes the process of elimination involved in good police work.

Letizia is attacked in the press, politicians weigh in and her Ministry of Justice boss gives away his prejudices as he lectures her, “as a father would” (in Italian with English subtitles). He needs “results. Time is running out!” Maybe a man should pitch in.

And yet years pass until the decision is made that voluntary DNA testing of everyone who might have had some connection to Yara is proposed, financed and launched, a game-changer in Italian justice, or so it’s implied.

The trial, when we see and hear it, has drama in it, and also confirms non-Italians’ bias fears, as prosecutorial innuendo battles the defense counsel’s implied suspicion of “new” science, and the judicial panel hearing the case seems intent on cutting off any chance of second-guessing their decision.

An American can’t help but think of the Amanda Knox case at the odd eye-rolling assertion, implication or conclusion is leapt to.

Ragonese lets us see the strain the case put on the prosecutor, the resignation that sets in after years of work and little progress. It’s a performance and a film with few histrionics, more dry “Law & Order” than sexy “CSI” in tone and pitch.

But like any true crime story boiled down to a feature film, it’s got a certain built-in appeal. It’s solidly built, with a couple of emotional moments tossed in with the slowly building suspense.

And again, the measures taken “over there” can look a little extreme — civil rights and privacy limits tested — to outside eyes.

If you’re into this sort of thing “Yara” might be just the sort of thing you’re into. If you’ve watched enough “CSI,” this will seem quaint, slow and dramatically thin.

Rating: TV-14, implied violence, descriptive material

Cast: Isabella Ragonese, Chiara Bono, Thomas Trabacchi, Sandra Toffolatti and Alessio Boni

Credits: Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, scripted by Graziano Diana. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:36

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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