I don't think a people can exist without a memory of its traditions, John Turturro says in Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy, a personal tour of Sicilian traditions, his family origins and a project he's been developing for years.

Directed by Roman Paska and written by Paska and the American actor-director, this simple, unpretentious documentary has international television potential. Turturro is well-known enough for it to play even theatrically in art house cinemas in countries that have a strong interest in Italian culture.

The project in question follows a Sicilian puppeteer and his young apprentice. But along the way he speaks to the likes of popular writer Andrea Camilleri and cultural scholar Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi on the importance of tragedy in the Sicilian theater and character, as well as dying traditions such as the Feast of the Dead.

Actors Donatella Finocchiaro and Vincenzo Pirrotta respectively read and perform beautiful passages in the Sicilian dialect, but the true star of the film is Mimmo Cuticchio, a puppeteer with a vast knowledge of the art, who teaches Turturro how to work the marionettes. A born and trained raconteur, Cuticchio explains the history of his craft and the art of Sicilian poetry and storytelling that preceded it.

Although the pupi (Sicilian puppets) long ago began to be replaced by film and television, they continue to have a hold on Sicilians.

The actor takes us to his grandmother's house as well, choking up when he speaks about his mother, who passed away recently. The moment is poignant and sincere. Turturro visits the convent across the street from his family home, and ends up in a funny, impromptu jam session with one of the nuns, who like his father's family, is from Apulia.

The film's last third is the weakest. Turturro auditions Sicilian girls to find the puppeteer's apprentice. When he does, they travel to some of the film's possible locations. The actor would have benefited from a translator here-- he does not speak Italian well and often doesn't understand others -- but international audiences won't catch the miscommunication.

In the end, Rehearsal shows us Turturro the artist, whose interest in history, geography and other people's stories are all fodder for his unquenchable creative thirst.