I (sort of) enjoyed this film, directed by Matteo Garrone and based upon the book by Roberto Saviano–the much talked about exposé of organized crime in Naples. The film adopts the multi-plot structure. The story of a war between two factions within the Camorra (hence the title–in Italian, the C is soft like a G) is told from five perspectives. One is of a grocery delivery boy named Totò. He manages to work his way into one of the factions by returning a gun and some cocaine that was dropped by a gangster during a police chase. Another is of Pasquale, a tailor who makes high fashion knock-offs (one of the big sources of cash for the Camorra) who then sells his talent to a rival, a Chinese-Italian who runs a factory making even cheaper high fashion knock-offs.

The third is a pair of young, hopelessly stupid teens named Marco and Ciro. They have it their heads that they can operate on their own, without answering to anybody. Problem is, no one answers to nobody. And they’re a pain in the Camorra’s neck. A small pain, but no pain is too small to warrant a whack job. There’s the perpetually sad money-runner Don Ciro, who operates in perhaps the ugliest part of Naples–a neighborhood of low-income housing projects. Then there’s the businessman Franco. His business? “Waste management” of course. Toxic waste. And it is, not surprisingly, a lucrative business. Companies are reassured “it’s clean” when in fact the toxic waste goes right into the dirt. Out of sight, out of mind. But it also creates a 20% increase in cancer throughout the region.

And this is the central theme of the film: waste. But the book is a work of a journalist, and Garrone doesn’t work the material in such a way as to “represent” it. That is, the theme isn’t pressed into the service of plot (if that makes sense). This film is shot in a neorealist style–Rossellini more than anyone. The actors (some of them, anyway) are obviously not professional. Much of the camera work is hand-held, and the multiple stories don’t cooperate so much as co-exist. That’s the biggest neorealist influence, it seems to me. Exposé without exposition. This is a surprisingly quiet film (though it is a quiet that is often interrupted with gun fire) and it is a filthy one. Rich colors are set against a lot of gray, rain swept streets. There’s only one shot that I can recall which gives us a glimpse of the sun. Franco’s assistant, a very sweet natured, very bright college grad named Roberto, quits after Franco orders him to dump a box of overripe peaches on the side of the road. Roberto, it seems, has had enough of dumping. And as the sun sets over the rich, green farmland, he just walks away.

Few others get off that easy, though. In one particularly memorable shot (stolen, perhaps, form Scorsese’s Taxi Driver?), Don Ciro tiptoes gingerly over corpse after corpse. Stacking corpses is, apparently, all that really goes on in this part of Naples. When Marco is asked if he wants to do a job–shoot Peppe the Horseman in the balls, then in the mouth–he says “I go crazy for these things.”

This thing won top prize at Cannes, and there’s much hope that it will prompt a re-re-renaissance of Italian cinema. Garrone is well-perched to be one of the group of smart, young filmmakers to lead this movement. I was told his other films are better, though. And I hope that’s the case because this film, though good, doesn’t seem to be the catalyst.

3 thoughts on “Gomorra

  1. I concur with John. Though ugly, the narrative action is compelling, and the widescreen photography is often stunning (particularly the use of architecture in Scampia, a particularly hellish suburb of Naples). J. Hoberman articulates it best: “Set in the middle of nowhere, this poured-concrete maze is part Aztec pyramid, part minimum-security pen. Transversed by narrow catwalks and alleys and honeycombed with lookouts, delivery boys, enforcers, and gangster wannabes, the structure promotes a particular form of tunnel vision.” Still, I wish I had more knowledge as to why the two factions (it’s very hard to tell one faction from another) are at war and over what (an opening scene in a men’s spa is operatic but ultimately impossible to situate). I was also uncertain as to what Don Ciro actually did as a “money runner” (Hoberman says he’s an accountant who pays off families for their loyalty, but he probably received a press-packet). The filmmakers simply throw us into the clusterfuck quagmire which appears to be under-class Naples and expect us to work it all out on our own, which ain’t necessarily bad but also a bit trying. At least four of the five narrative threads concludes without a major character’s death which is worth pointing out (I think). Does that mean there’s hope? Probably not (given the film’s socio-political commentary tacked on at the end). Thankfully, Gommora does not end with a Bollywood style dance number! For that alone it deserves a look.

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