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DRE #444020

Film Review


In 2006, a courageous Italian journalist, Roberto Saviano, published a book, Gomorrah, documenting the Camorra's iron grip on Naples. The Camorra, a group of criminal clans in Campania, has never received the publicity of the Mafia, who are actually smaller but better known, ironically through Hollywood's depictions of them. The Camorra control most criminal activity in Naples, make hundreds of millions of dollars each year from drugs, prostitution, weapons, gambling, etc, buy officials at the highest level, and have bought into formerly legitimate businesses, like construction and high end clothing. Saviano contends that the Italian government has largely lost control of Campania, which has effectively become a narco state, as corrupt as any place on earth. His book was highly praised, and became an immediate best seller in Italy, with over a million copies sold. Mob bosses swore to kill him, so Saviano has been in hiding, under police protection. Based on this book, Matteo Garrone, the director, has produced a powerful, ferocious look at this hell on earth. He takes five stories of people caught in this web, and in Robert Altman fashion, jumps back and forth between each, until their varied endings. This is a complex series of stories, fast paced, but told in a coherent and controlled manner. The level of tension never subsides, and at film's end, I was exhausted.

The film opens in darkness, with the sound of a motor, and soon we see a group of gangsters using tanning booths. Suddenly they are shot, one by one, each one unaware of what is happening to the others. And the killing never stops. There is nothing romantic here, nothing is romanticized, all is grim and bleak. It is realism in a way that is not possible on this side of the Atlantic. Otto, a young teenager living in a huge apartment block with his single mother, finds a gun and drugs that had been tossed away by one of the mob members, and returns it to the gang boss. The boss, impressed, asks him to join. Otto is eager, but has to experience a frightening initiation. Don Ciro is a cash runner for the mob. He distributes the weekly payments to the mob's families and supporters, most living in that same huge apartment block. And has clearly been involved with Maria, the mother of a friend of Otto's. Two older teenage kids, Marco and Ciro, are first seen playing gangsters, quoting from Scarface. They are hyper, stupid, very out of control, and soon begin grabbing drugs from street dealers. One day they watch as gang members unload and hide a shipment of weapons at a water buffalo farm, and their lives are changed forever. Franco is a businessman who disposes of toxic industrial wastes cheaper than his competition, by simply dumping it in abandoned quarries around the country side, poisoning the surrounding farms. We first see him climbing out of an underground tank at an abandoned gas station. An appropriate introduction as Franco is the archetype of evil, and has a young assistant, Roberto, who begins to develop misgivings. And finally there is the master tailor, Pasquale, who sews haute couture dresses. He is the key tailor in a factory controlled by the mob, yet still works long hours for relatively little money. He gets an lucrative offer from a Chinese businessman to train his factory workers. All of the stories quickly develop, some in surprising ways, some intersecting, and most ending badly.

This is a world of evil, greed, cruelty, and brutality, sparing no one. The Camorra has permeated every level of society here. Gomorrah is absolutely riveting, with very accomplished cinematography. There is a distinct beauty to many of the scenes, which is an ironic counter to what we witness. The shot of the dump trucks in the quarry, moving to dump their toxic wastes, starts closeup, then pulls back to reveal a gorgeous panorama. The scenes in the apartment block maze are often astonishing, then the camera pulls back and we see the staggering size of the building. So many scenes are haunting, especially the last scene near a beach. Gomorrah is a difficult film to watch at times, not so much because of the violence, but because it's vision of life in Naples is so bleak and unredeeming. But it is a brilliant, powerful, and often beautiful observation of terrible things. Highly recommended, and it will certainly be among my ten best films for this year. Definitely see this on the big screen. Just opened at the Embarcadero.

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