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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
In 2003, Giancarlo De Cataldo, a judge-turned-novelist, wrote Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel in English), a largely truthful recollection (only the names were changed) of the Magliana gang, a Roman crime organization he had sentenced to prison. Three years later, Neapolitan journalist Roberto Saviano wrote Gomorra, a first-hand, non-fiction analysis of how organized crime controls everything in his native region. The book was the result of months of direct contact with the people who keep the System (the gangsters themselves refuse to use the word Camorra, which can be considered the local version of the Sicilian Mafia) and became a huge success, the downside of which was Saviano receiving multiple death threats from the people he'd exposed and being forced to live with a permanent police escort. The reason I'm mentioning both books is they were both made into successful films (Gomorra even walked away with the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival), with one crucial difference: Romanzo Criminale is very good, but does at times, as implied by the title, feel like a novel, a fictional story. Gomorra, on the other hand, using the same raw, in-your-face style as City of God, throws the viewer into a new, scary world - the real deal.
Director Matteo Garrone, who co-wrote the screenplay with a bunch of collaborators (including Saviano himself), wisely decides to ditch the book's first-person storytelling, the only (possible) reference to the author being a young man named Roberto who helps businessman Franco (Toni Servillo) close a series of suspicious deals with various companies in the North of Italy (Venice is explicitly shown). Franco's line of work, which will sound amusing to anyone who's watched The Sopranos, is waste management, though not of the legal kind. His story is one of five that constitute the film's narrative: along with him, there's also Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), who pays the family members of imprisoned crooks; Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a tailor whose life is at risk because of his contacts with the Chinese (Italians don't like competition) and whose work ends up being worn by celebrities like Scarlett Johansson (Angelina Jolie in the book); and then there are two different examples of young blood, one a loyal boy who runs errands for his drug-dealing neighbors, the other two young punks who have watched Scarface way too often (a reference to the fact that a real-life Camorra boss had his villa designed exactly like Tony Montana's) and think they can take over.
An ensemble gangster flick, then. Not quite: this is no Altman movie, which means the separate plot strands never once cross paths. This is because Gomorra doesn't set out to be a real, straightforward story, but rather offer a series of bleak, extremely real examples of how the Camorra (or the System, though neither word is ever spoken in the film) controls everything. Aside from the documentary-style cinematography and anxious cutting, the highest degree of realism comes from the cast: the only really famous actor in the film is Servillo, familiar from Paolo Sorrentino's filmography; the rest have a theatrical background or, in the case of the kids especially, were taken directly from the street (the movie was shot on location, and rumor has it the mother of a Camorra boss asked for a cameo). This shows most clearly in the way they speak: with few exceptions (Franco most notably), the characters' Neapolitan dialect is so strong the film had to be subtitled in most parts of Italy. Garrone and Saviano's message is clear: this isn't your usual genre flick, it's something else - something palpable, something real, something terrifying.
Gomorra's top achievement is that it doesn't play to the stereotype of Italy being nothing but the home of gangsters. On the contrary, it pinpoints a sad fact, its intent being to denounce and make aware, never to glorify. Sure, it opens with a shootout that could remind of Goodfellas (still one of the best first-hand crime tales) or The Sopranos, but even those masterpieces are too smooth and polished next to the gritty, unsettling universe that emerges from this film. It's dirty, brutal, scary. And it simply has to be seen.
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