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"Gomorra" is a contemporary Neapolitan mob drama that exposes Italy's criminal underbelly by telling five stories of individuals who think they can make their own compact with Camorra, the area's Mafia. Written by
Much of Gomorra takes place in and around a crumbling housing project, that in establishing shots looks as if it were a rotting labyrinth pyramid. The very structure of the film's slums serves itself as a visual metaphor for the Camorra crime institution in Naples. It's a bureaucratic shuffle, rivaling a large capitalist corporation, equally ruthless but in different senses of the term. Their products are drugs, extortion, and toxic sludge. Their version of corporate take-over involves murderously shameless acts of extreme violence.
Matteo Garrone deftly directs Gomorra, based on the novel of the same name by Roberto Saviano. It contains a labyrinth plot serving to depict a labyrinth lifestyle. One storyline focuses on a young boy, Toto, who lives in that decaying pyramid, and wants to join up with the gangsters who run it. By the end of the film, his youth will be shattered, and he'll have done things to those around him that would have seemed unthinkable before. He's the ground soldier in the gangster empire.
Don Ciro is an aging money runner, delivering rations to the families of mob prisoners. He gets increasingly caught between the war between factions within the complexes, and before long takes to wearing a bullet proof vest in fear of his own safety.
Roberto is a college graduate, given a high profile job working with Franco, who runs a scheme disposing of garbage and waste from the city by burying it in the countryside - a move that has sent the cancer rate in the countryside through the roof. Roberto must face his own conscious as he becomes more and more aware of the corruption of work.
Pasquale is a talented designer, who's put to work by his friend and boss completing a contract for dresses in less time than he and the workers should like. At great personal risk to himself, he takes an offer from a Chinese factory boss to gives lessons to his workers. The job means crossing the Comorra, so he is hidden in the trunk on the drive to the factory, with a modified hole behind the backseat so he can stick his head out to breath and chat.
The other storyline follows two Scarface-wannabes who long to be the crime bosses of all bosses. They cross the local boss by stealing drugs from dealers, causing trouble, then by stealing weapons from a mob cache, raising Cain. They are knuckle-heads, a couple of kids too stupid to see the truth behind the phony glorification of the gangster lifestyle.
That phony glorification is entirely absent here. Garrone observes his gangsters with an eye of contempt. There is no Robin Hood imagery in Gomorra. It puts on full display the ruthlessness of the gangster culture. It's a gangster as capitalist world, one where turning to killing kids or a woman is looked down upon, but not off-limits.
The film starts off with a fantastic sequence of tanning machines and surprisingly graphic murder, which would lead one to think that they were moving headlong into a Scorsese-like blood bath of macabre. You'd be wrong though. Gomorra is a very patient film, slowly unraveling its stories. It's clearly influenced by the early Italian Neo-Realists, and also has elements that reminded me of the gangster pictures of Jean-Pierre Melville. Garrone shoots in a documentary style with hand-held camera shots. It jumps between its story lines with utmost patience, which might slow down the film's pace more than many would like or are accustomed to. If you do not realize the scope of the Camorra's activity in nearly all facets of commercial and communal life in and around Naples, the connection between the stories may seem unclear. But that's one of the main services of the picture, to show us just how entrenched the mafia has remained in parts of Italy.
Although mob movies are a dime a dozen, Gamorra enters as a gangster epic with freshness. It's a very European film, and as far as gangster pictures go, with its no nonsense documentary style, and only slowly escalating violence and patience it feels like a unique addition to the genre. Gomorra is sure to split, maybe even downright annoy audiences looking for something more conventional. It defies at least most of the genre's clichés, and aims high with its quiet ambitions.
Gomorra won the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and has been slotted as Italy's official entry into the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.
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