Reviewed by: Val Kermode

“I didn’t make the cadmium and the nickel.”

“Look at that (fields). What do you see? Debt.”

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Franco (Toni Servillo) the manager of toxic waste disposal is talking to his new assistant, Roberto (Carmine Paternoster). Franco is trying to justify his role in the Camorra. Where would Italy’s economy be without it? This is the only scene in this remarkable film where anyone openly challenges the stranglehold of this massive crime organisation.

Over the past 30 years the Naples-based Camorra has murdered 4,000 people. It has members in every social class and does business in every area of life. Sometimes its activities reach the headlines, as during this year’s refuse crisis when so much rubbish filled the streets of Naples that hotels were forced to close. Since Roberto Saviano wrote his best selling non-fiction novel on which this film is based, he has been living under police protection.

Matteo Garrone shows how the lives of men and women, some of them very young, are controlled and ruled by this criminal force and its violence. He has pared down Saviano’s detailed work, and weaves together five stories which represent the different ages of people caught up in this net, from the 13-year-old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), who longs to be a part of the clan activity he sees going on around him, to Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a talented tailor working in haute couture, who is persuaded by Chinese competitors to share the secrets of his trade.

In between we meet Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato). He is “il sottomarino” who goes from flat to flat with his list, paying the families of prisoners who are affiliated with his clan. When his clan’s command of the territory is challenged, he has to concern himself with his own survival.

Then there are the teenagers Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), who think they can go it alone. Obsessed with Brian de Palma’s Scarface, they discover a cache of weapons and start acting out their fantasies. But in the eyes of the “system” they are only two stray dogs whose acts of bravado are disturbing the orderly routine of business.

Garrone has said: “The raw material I had to work with when shooting Gomorrah was so visually powerful that I merely filmed it in as straightforward a way as possible, as if I were a passer-by who happened to find myself there by chance.” This gives the film an almost documentary feel, supported by naturalistic performances. There is an unrelieved ugliness and squalor in the locations, most of the action taking place in a bleak housing project in Scampia, a Naples suburb which alone justifies the film’s title. (In fact almost the only beautiful image in the film is glimpsed on Franco’s computer. What appears to be a national park is another site he is considering for the dumping of toxic waste.)

Everyday life in Scampia is captured in all its detail. The crumbling walkways and dark basements give the feeling that nowhere is safe for its residents. Money is grabbed from eager hands and drugs given out through railings. Antique furniture is carefully lowered from a balcony. Children crouch and shout warnings when strange cars enter the area and figures on rooftops call down if police are seen approaching. And life goes on, with a kitchen flooding and a wedding party being cheered along, blue carpet specially laid, flowerpots placed along the railings. And in the midst of this, the shootings, bodies dragged away, pools of blood.

From the opening scenes, the sound design by Leslie Shatz builds a feeling of menace. There is violence when you expect it and violence when you don’t. And in one wonderfully tense scene when violence seems inevitable, something quite different happens.

This is a long film, and initially rather confusing as the various characters are introduced. But it is a film which seriously rewards your concentration and its images will stay with you. In its style, its performances and its confident direction, this film is a triumph.

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2008
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Five interweaving stories paint a brutal portrait of organised crime in Naples.
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Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Roberto Saviano, Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano

Starring: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Salvatore Ruocco, Vincenzo Fabricino, Vincenzo Altamura, Italo Renda, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Salvatore Striano, Carlo Del Sorbo, Vincenzo Bombolo

Year: 2008

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy


New York 2008
CFF 2008

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