Gomorrah (IFC Films, NR)

film_gomorrah_sm.jpgAlthough there are temporary winners in the constant gang warfare, it’s hard to say what they have really won.








There’s nothing glamorous about gangster life in Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone’s award-winning film based on the book of the same name by Italian journalist Roberto Saviano. Instead, Garrone provides a cold-eyed view of the consequences of the mafia stranglehold over the city of Naples through five stories which are intercut throughout the film. The title is a reference both to the biblical city of Gomorrah and the name of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra.

Garrone avoids punching the usual emotional buttons: His stories have no heroes, his crime lords no glamour, and his victims no nobility. Although there are temporary winners in the constant gang warfare, it’s hard to say what they have really won except the chance to be a target for the next ambitious goon with a gun. Gomorrah is all the more memorable because it refuses to present the expected catharsis; instead we get a relentlessly gritty yet emotionally detached view of the underside of Neapolitan life, which looks and feels like a documentary.

Gomorrah was shot on location, largely with hand-held cameras, and with Garrone serving as chief camera operator. Much of the action takes place in the Vele di Scampi housing project in a suburb of Naples, a grim concrete-block construction so infested with drugs that Garrone says they could only shoot there for a few hours each day "because the effects of crack made the people aggressive and our safety would have been compromised."

The tentacles of the Camorra touch people in all age groups in this film. Totó (Salvatore Abruzzese), a 13-year-old grocery delivery boy, wants to be part of the action because it seems cool and grown-up. After he returns a gun and bag of drugs dropped during an arrest, he gets his chance. Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are teenaged meatheads who both think they are the reincarnation of Tony Montana; scenes of them firing stolen automatic weapons in their underwear provide Gomorrah‘s most memorable images. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) is a university graduate unable to find work until the genial Franco (Toni Servillo) generously initiates brings him into the mafia’s toxic waste dumping business.

Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) is a skilled tailor forced into a ruinously low bid for a job producing high-fashion women’s dresses. He takes the opportunity to earn some extra cash teaching the dress-making trade to Chinese workers in a rival factory, a decision which almost costs him his life. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) has made his living for years paying off the relatives of prisoners associated with the Camorra, but finds his stable existence threatened by "changes in management" caused by gang warfare.

These stories are presented in parallel, as are some other threads which are never tied up neatly. Who were those guys murdered in the tanning salon at the very beginning of the film? We don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Thankfully, Garrone avoids the temptation to create Babel-like connections among these stories; instead he (and the five other screenwriters credited on this film) simply present them and allow viewers to draw their own conclusions. | Sarah Boslaugh

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