Published by Douglas Messerli, the World Cinema Review features full-length reviews on film from the beginning of the industry to the present day, but the primary focus is on films of intelligence and cinematic quality, with an eye to exposing its readers to the best works in international film history.
Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, and
Robert Saviano (screenplay), based on the book by Roberto Saviano, Matteo
Garrone (director) Gomorrah / 2008,
released in the U.S. in 2009
rhyming title of the Neapolitan crime group Camorra, Gomorrah is a rambling narrative of five different sets of characters
in and about Naples, all of whom can be tied to the notorious gangs of that
region, and all of whom are destined to kill or be killed themselves.
The film centers—if there can be said to be a central focus—on a young
boy Totò (played by Salvatore Abruzzese), a wide-eyed urchin living in the vast
apartment compound Vele di Sampi where most of the film's action takes place.
Totò's mother survives through a small grocery, and as a delivery boy for her,
Totò visits various units of the apartment complex, getting a close-up view of
more violence and suffering than any child should have to endure. Like other,
slightly older children of this world, he clearly sees the violence around him
as a natural phenomenon.
Two other boys, Ciro and Marco, soon to be
young adults, play a kind of theatrical game of imitation, miming scenes and
imaginatively recreating the events of the American gang movie Scarface. When these boys later discover
a cache of guns and other weaponry hidden by the Camorra at a nearby farm, they
turn their games into deadly action, shooting up the empty backwaters of their
neighborhood. Garrone's film relies more on memorable images than upon a coherent
story, and one of the best of these is a scene in which the two boys, stripped
to their underwear, meaninglessly shoot off their Uzi's in mad imagination of
the day when they will overtake the local Don—a wretched unshaven and (so the
boys claim) unclean thug whom it is not hard to imagine is a vulnerable as
anyone else in this hellish spot.
Garrone refuses to glamorize any part of the Camorra. Hardly anyone, not
even the wealthy gang leaders, live better lives than anyone else. And most
characters are trapped in the confines of small, dark rooms, allowed to
continue living by small financial handouts provided by the Camorra, some of
which is put right back into the Camorra economy through the purchase of coke
and heroin or a trip to the local sex club—the only pleasures this world seems
One of the major figures we fellow, in fact, is the money runner, Don
Circo (Gianfelice Imparato), who, like Totò, is privy to each household as he
delivers mob money to those deemed worthy of support. His job may seem, at
first, to offer some sense of purpose or even power, but we soon discover, like
everyone else, he too is forced to live life at the edge with the possibility
of being killed by rival ("secessionist") gangs and being hated by
those to whom he delivers the money for the mob's penurious offerings. As one
recipient shouts each week, how do they expect me to live on this? Don Circo's
attempt to leave the mob ends in another round of murders.
Even the local haute couture designer, given a contract to produce
several gowns—including one, we discover later, that will grace the body of
actress Scarlett Johannson on Oscar night—lives in near-destitution and all
night working sessions. His top dressmaker lives so poorly that he is willing
to sell his knowledge, night by night, to the owner of a local Chinese dress
factory, who sneaks him in an out of the shop in the trunk of his car. As a
so-called "traitor," he too is nearly killed, and escapes with his
life only by leaving his previous occupation behind, becoming a truck driver.
Perhaps the only man who seems to live life a little better than the
others is Franco, who with his new assistant Roberto, plans to turn an empty
quarry into dumping ground for garbage that will cover over a bed of
dangerously toxic containers of chemicals. When one of the truck drivers
delivering the barrels has a mishap, bleeding and fearful of the chemical's
effects, Franco unflappably orders the regular drivers out of the trucks,
temporarily leaving the scene to bring back young street boys who are more than
happy to drive these mammoth machines down to the pit where they will be
dumped. When a local farmer, who has previously sold Franco land offers him
pears, Franco kindly accepts them, but once on the road demands Roberto dump
them: they are polluted like all the land of Campania thereabouts. Roberto
(perhaps a stand-in for the author, Roberto Saviano), refusing to rejoin Franco
in his determined destruction of the region, is perhaps the only individual in
the film who escapes unscathed—although in real life Saviano must live in
hiding, fearful of the mob's wrath.
It is inevitable, accordingly, that the
young, innocent Totò must ultimately be entombed in the Camorra's codes of
behavior. Hit by a secessionist group, a younger fringe of the Camorra
followers determine to kill the mother of a rebel. As a delivery boy, Totò is
the only one for whom she will open her door. Desperately trying to remain
uninvolved in these treacherous acts, Totò will not answer their query:
"Are you with us or not?" But as he knows, there is no ground in
between, and he has no choice but to call the woman out to her murder.
So are Circo and Marco lured to a
country spot and shot, their bodies loaded into a forklift of a giant
caterpillar truck and dumped, perhaps in the very cemetery of garbage created
by Franco and his kind.
Dramatically speaking, Gomorrah
is nothing but a mish-mash of different stories weaving in and out of each
other, much like the unfocused images of Garrone's background figures
throughout the film. Yet the implications of these character's purposeless
acts, where human life has no more or less value than a bottle fly buzzing
around a room, are absolutely mesmerizing and memorable.The only time death means anything for the
figures of this film is when the gun is aimed at their own heads. But as
members of such self-destructive cultures everywhere, the moment they survive
the heat, they seem utterly to forget—just like the boys who are told they have
been transformed into men by letting a mob henchman shoot them, a bullet-proof
vest pulled over them for probable protection, directly in the chest; the force
of the bullet momentarily flattens them upon their backs, but eventually they
stand up again to blindly face the bullets of another day. Let us hope that
readers of Saviano's book and movie will remember, and help to put a halt to
these internationally destructive acts.
Angeles, February 19, 2009
Reprinted from Nth Position [England] (March 2009).