An argument could be made that whenever a Neapolitan pours milk on his morning cereal, he supports organized crime. In Naples, it is impossible to live without supporting organized crime. The Camorra, Italy’s oldest Mafia group, influences every part of life in the city and its network is so wide that it has so far proved to be impossible to quash. The most recent example of the Camorra’s devastating power is Naples’ ongoing garbage crisis, which is also portrayed in this screen adaptation of the 29-year-old journalist Roberto Saviano’s book, a portrait of life under the Mafia’s thumb.
The film depicts several Neapolitans. There’s the stereotypical (thanks to countless mob movies) kid, Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), who makes “friends” in the Camorra after helping a few gangsters on the run from the police; eventually, the 13-year-old is forced to make up his mind if he wants to cross the definitive line or not. There’s a tailor, Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), who is approached by Chinese businessmen who want him to train their seamstresses; he’s well paid, but if the Camorra finds out about his off-hour hobby his life could be in danger. Don Ciro’s (Gianfelice Imparato) job is to make sure that families of imprisoned Camorra members are taken care of financially, but lately his own membership in the organization has become fraught with risks. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) works for Franco (Toni Servillo) in toxic waste management, but the young protégée is growing tired of the hypocrisy; whenever Franco is helping a family, Roberto knows that another one is being destroyed for not being loyal enough to the “system”.
And then there’s Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), two cocky and hopelessly stupid troublemakers who want to be successful gangsters on their own. The local Camorra clan is not impressed.
Too weak to resist mob money
It takes a while before one sorts out the relationships and various plots of the film, but director Matteo Garrone gets your attention already in the first sequence where several men are executed in a solarium. His depiction of the Camorra’s Naples is a place where the working class has few options but to cooperate with the gangsters, and the city’s leaders are too weak to resist their money and ability to offer the easiest solutions to problems such as waste management.
Cinematographer Marco Onorato’s grimy visuals reinforce the oppressive, depressing feeling that every decent person in the city is being held hostage, but also the feeling that this is an honest story about real people whose lives have been immortalized thanks to Saviano (who is now paying for it by living under constant bodyguard protection). The stories are all interesting, particularly the one about the moonlighting tailor who even has to hide in the trunk of a car when he goes to see the Chinese… and it is ironic to watch Marco and Ciro idolize Tony Montana of all legendary movie gangster screw-ups as they continue down their path of crime. Perhaps they should have watched the ending of Scarface (1983) more closely.
They do however provide the most symbolic moment of the film, as they play around in their underwear with automatic weapons on a beach; rarely has the stupidity and childishness of individual mob thugs looked so naked.
Gangster movies usually romanticize aspects of life in the Mafia, but this one doesn’t make you want to join the gang. The Italian society’s inability to destroy its crime families is embarrassing and the odor of the Neapolitan garbage crisis wouldn’t be so rank without the failure of Italian political leadership.
Gomorrah 2008-Italy. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed by Matteo Garrone. Screenplay: Matteo Garrone, Roberto Saviano, Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Massimo Gaudioso. Novel: Roberto Saviano. Cinematography: Marco Onorato. Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese (Toto), Gianfelice Imparato (Don Ciro), Maria Nazionale (Maria), Toni Servillo, Carmine Paternoster, Salvatore Cantalupo.
Trivia: Original title: Gomorra. Later an Italian TV series, Gomorrah (2014- ).
European Film Awards: Best Film, Director, Actor (Servillo), Screenplay, Cinematography.
Last word: “We decided on five stories and main characters. We wanted to make not only a crime film about Naples but also a metaphor about a more global situation. We wrote the screenplay in Rome. I went to Naples and talked to Saviano and the people I met there, who had experienced that world, functioned like a periscope. This allowed me to transform some parts of the script written in Rome, as I eventually did again when I was working with actors. In this respect, the process is almost documentary-like. While we were always writing with images in mind, sometimes we came up with different images while in Naples. For example, when I learned that some of the bosses went to a tanning room every day, that gave me a wonderful idea for the opening. It’s also a classic gangster image – like the barbershop scene in ‘The Godfather’.” (Garrone, Cineaste)