Matteo Garrone's coruscating portrait of life in two of Naples' Mafia-controlled suburbs was the talk of this year's Cannes, stirring critics into talk of a return to Italian cinema's neo-realism heyday.

The director shot the film in Camorra territory such as Scampia, a neighbourhood where someone dies every three days at the hand of the Naples crime organisation.

Despite this, and the fact Roberto Saviano, the author of the book on which Gomorrah is based, has received death threats, Garrone says the six-week shoot was 'incredible'.

'I feared there would be problems shooting and we were worried,' he admits. But he says he hasn't received any death threats from the Camorra - so far. Garrone puts this down to involving the locals in every aspect of the film, including the casting. And the power of cinema. After all, everyone wants to be a movie star.

'Cinema fascinates everyone - there were always 50 or 60 people around the monitors,' he says. 'I am curious to see how the Camorra react (to the finished film). When you are in that reality, you don't see 'one good guy and one bad'. It's a grey zone and a struggle for survival. It's not so much a 'thesis' on the Camorra as a view of how it works from the inside.'

The son of a theatre critic and a photographer, Rome-born Garrone received no formal training in film-making but says his early career as a painter influenced his visual style. 'At the age of 26, I put down my paintbrush and self-produced my first film (Terra Di Mezzo). It was very independent,' he says.

Gomorrah's producer Domenico Procacci of Fandango noticed Garrone's talent. Their first project together, The Embalmer, screened in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 2002. Procacci then optioned Saviano's eponymous book about the mafia, before it went on to become a bestseller in Italy. It has sold 1.2 million copies around the world and been translated into 43 languages.

01 Distribution opened Gomorrah in Italy during Cannes on May 16. It opened with $2.8m (EUR1.8m) at the top of the charts, and has earned $7.6m (EUR4.8m) to date.

'The book laid the groundwork for the marketing campaign,' says Gaella Armentano, director of marketing at 01 Distribution. The poster is a simple hot pink swash of the title against a black backdrop (a mirror of the book's cover art, which is Andy Warhol's hot pink Knives print).

Nicola Grispello, a Naples native and Warner Village Cinemas' commercial director of programming and film relations, says there have been no problems from the Camorra - yet. 'But they are going to see the film,' he adds.

How does he know' 'Movie-goers are claiming to be the Camorra, or say they are in the film, and are asking for free admission.'

The cultural life of Matteo Garrone

Favourite recent film: 'Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood'

Favorite recent book: 'A classic, which is Jack London's Martin Eden'

Inspirations: 'I like to go places and make sure what I write about is really there'