Dir: Matteo Garrone.Italy. 2008. 135mins.
Probably the most authentic and unsentimental mafia movie ever to come out ofItaly,Gomorrahis a courageous, bruising and harrrowing ride. But the film suffers from its own bravery: in adapting Roberto Saviano’s bestselling book for the screen, Matteo Garrone and his five co-scripters (including Saviano himself, currently living under police protection) have jettisoned the journalistic context of the Neapolitan Camorra war and left us only with the dog-eat-dog, carpe-diem chaos of life in the crime-ridden suburbs of Scampia and Secondigliano. Like the white powder used and traded by many of its protagonists,Gomorrahprovides a kick-in-the-head rush but no lasting buzz.
It’s still a powerful statement, though, with impressive performances from both actors and non-professionals in the ensemble cast, and an edgy visual style that channels the nervousness and unpredictability of life in a Camorra stronghold. And it’s also a solid commercial prospect that will hitch a ride from the widespread publication of Saviano’s book (42 countries and counting) but also go the distance thanks to its own undoubted visual (and aural) impact. Fandango Portobello has already sold the film in seven territories, including the UK, France, and Germany/Austria, and more are likely before Cannes wraps. The film was released in Italy (with its heavy Neapolitan dialect subtitled in Italian) two days before its Cannes debut on a wide 400 screens, and though official weekend figures are not yet in, audience numbers are reported to be buoyant on the back of overwhelmingly positive reviews.
The film’s disorienting structure and lack of context are clearly deliberate: only at the end are we given a few captions explaining, among other things, that the Neapolitan Camorra is a huge economic powerhouse which has even invested in the reconstruction of New York ‘s Twin Towers. Ironically, on the day of the film’s Cannes debut, Italian newspapers were dominated by two stories - one the ongoing refuse crisis in Naples (the Camorra-controlled waste disposal industry is one of Gomorrah’s principal themes), the other the arrest of Guido Abbinante, head of the ‘seccesionists’, whose savage, no-holds-barred war against the rival Di Lauro clan is the film’s main focus.
Five character-based plotlines are interwoven. The first is that of Totò (Abruzzese), a 13-year-old boy who sees a Camorra initiation as his ticket to respect and maturity and Maria (Nazionale), the young mother he is asked to betray. Don Ciro (Imparato) is a ‘submarine’, whose job it is to take monthly payouts to faithful clan members who have sons or husbands in jail. Friends Marco (Macor) and Ciro (Petrone) are laddish loose-cannons convinced that they can operate independently from the local clan boss. Pasquale (Cantalupo) is a skilled haute couture tailor who works for a Camorra-linked fashion entrepreneur but gets into trouble by moonlighting for the clan’s Chinese rivals as a trainer in a huge sweatshop.
Finally, Franco (Servillo) is a smooth-talking suited businessman but his business is the illegal ‘processing’ of toxic waste, an activity that becomes increasingly repellent to his principled young assistant Roberto (Paternoster).
Certain scenes are standouts: Totò delivering drugs on one level of an ugly block of flats while a wedding reception is in progress below; the aftermath of a drive-by shooting, when a car ploughs into a stonemason’s yard full of statues; or a scene where Marco and Ciro blow up a moored fishing boat with a rocket launcher, just for the hell of it. The cheapness of life is underscored by the soundtrack of tacky ‘neo melodico’ pop sung in Neapolitan dialect: despite the amount of cash we see changing hands, there is nothing of real value in this world.
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Gianni di Gregorio
from the book by Roberto Saviano