Wednesday, 15 October 2008

gomorrah (d. matteo garrone, w. saviano, bracucci, chiti, di gregorio, garrone, gaudioso)

Gomorrah is adapted from a book of the same title, written by Roberto Saviano, detailing the activities of the Camorra, one of Italy's still functioning crime syndicates. Saviano, who's only 28, has spent the last two years of his life in hiding. You can imagine one way to make a whole raft of enemies for life is to write a book exposing Mafia activities in Italy, without any sentimental overtones.

Gomorrah interweaves several different storylines to show different aspects of the criminal syndicate, aspects which don't appear to have any connection, as though the heads of the hydra wouldn't recognise one another if they met. It doesn't glamourise the world in any way. Rather, it tries to show how the illegal profits it pursues are part and parcel of the world of business. One section is set in the world of pattern cutting and knock off designer wear (at one point the tailor rather touchingly sees Scarlett Johansen, in another world, wearing one of his creations); another based around a group who bury toxic waste in the countryside. The film also dwells on a large, specific concrete housing estate, following the story of a young kid who gets sucked into the violence of a war between opposing factions. The housing estate makes for an interesting counterpoint to that shown in Import/ Export: once again it's a kind of frontline in the battle between a harmonious affluent Europe and a dangerous, warring underworld, threatening the social fabric. However, as opposed to the estate in Import/ Export, presented as some kind of hell, the houses on Gomorrah's estate are something people personalise and cling to. There's a pet monkey in one house and a remarkable long lens shot of a swimming pool on the roof. This is territory that people are prepared to fight over, and in some cases, to die for.

In its quest for what feels like authenticity, Gomorrah repeatedly underplays the drama, rather than ratcheting it up, as so often the case in mob movies. The stresses that ordinary people, caught up in a war which they know no way of avoiding, are described. The man who delivers the money to families on the estate, who realises the time has come when he needs to start wearing a bullet proof vest, or the tailor who takes his life in his hands when he gives the Chinese factory lessons in pattern-cutting. When the Comorra is your world, you don't get to choose whether you want to play or not. One of the strongest moments comes when the young boy is forced to betray his friend's mother. Up to now, it had been all about dressing up and driving around in cars, playing at being a man: all of a sudden the stakes are brutally altered.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline is the one that follows two young men who decide they want to be their own bosses. In an early scene, they boast about being 'Tony Montana' from Scarface. In a compelling scene they steal cocaine from a group of African dealers, and later some guns from the Comorra. They possess the kind of insouciant, charismatic criminality which, in another, less honest film, might have seen them go right to the top. However, in Gomorrah, they're just deluding themselves. This is the Mafia like it really is; not like they show it in the movies.

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