Director: Matteo Garrone
With: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Salvatore Ruocco
Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists
Naples, the present day. The Camorra, the criminal underworld organisation runs a number of legal and illegal activities to finance itself, which are shown through a series of separate narratives. Toto is a young boy who runs errands for his mother, but falls in with the Camorra. Don Ciro is a middle aged accountant; the human face of this world of crime, who becomes increasingly aware of the violence around him. Marco and Ciro are two reckless young men under the influence of Hollywood gangster films, who attempt to go their own way, outside of the Camorra. Franco is a superficially respectable businessman who disposes of toxic waste in abandoned quarries with no regard for safety. Pasquale is a tailor who accepts a lucrative offer from his Chinese rivals to improve the standards and productivity of their workers. At the same time, the Camorra is engaged in war with rival organisations, increasing the violence and bloodshed on the streets.
Hollywood interpretations of the gangster film have either deliberately or otherwise tended to create a romantic and mythological portrait of this world. This is an issue Garrone tackles with one of the narrative strands of ‘Gomorrah’, with the independently minded Marco and Ciro. These two men are naïve and hopelessly out of their depth; their view of the criminal world completely influenced by films, not experience. Their main influence is De Palma’s ‘Scarface’, which ironically glamorised Tony Montana’s ambition and success, encompassed in the blimp that informed him “the world is yours”. ‘Scarface’ remains the best example of the gangster film least taken at face value, with impressionable audiences overlooking the theme of crime as unrestrained capitalism run amok, but concentrating on the cool of Montana. Marco and Ciro re-enact scenes from ‘Scarface’, quote dialogue endlessly, falsely believing, like Montana, that they are invincible.
Garrone does not consider the Camorra as a glamorous organisation, and demonstrates this by showing it not from the top end of the hierarchy where power and finances reside, but at the lowest possible level. The five separate narratives focus on individuals who join the Camorra as a means of making a living. These are the foot soldiers doing the organisation’s dirty work. Setting the film in a dirty run down housing complex which seems to be controlled by the Camorra and houses those on its payroll, Garrone provides us an insular environment that might be part of any inner city. This is a tight-knit and self-sufficient community that has no interference from outsiders. Despite the violence, the only instance the police intervene is when the mother of a boy who has rejected the Camorra is murdered. It is therefore no surprise that when the boys on the estate reach adolescence; they seek to join the Camorra. There are no other opportunities for these boys; there is no obvious world outside the organisation, and joining the Camorra is a rite of passage. Toto and several other boys are initiated into the organisation by being shot at whilst wearing a bulletproof vest; after which Toto is informed; “now you’re a man!” Once one grows up in the world of the Camorra, this is one’s future is clearly mapped out.
Garrone is also keen to show a contemporary view of Italian society in the wake of rising immigration. These new communities have also turned to crime as a means of establishing and sustaining themselves, and they represent serious rivals to the activities of the Camorra. The North African community deal in hard drugs, whilst the Chinese community run clothing sweatshops and seek to undercut the Camorra-controlled fashion house for whom Pasquale in the tailor. These new communities are just one of the emerging threats to the power and position of the Camorra. Rival criminal organisations are another, and the growing civil war between these warring elements results in the amount of bloodshed that has some of the peripheral, non-violent participants in this power struggle wanting to escape, although escape is impossible.
Perhaps the most disturbing impact of ‘Gomorrah’ is not the violence and illegal activities of the Camorra, but the legal enterprises they engage in, which have an impact on the lives of all Italian citizens, and even across the world. As an epilogue, Garrone provides statistics about the work of the Camorra. Not only are they the most vicious organisation in Europe, responsible for the most murders (40,000 in the last thirty years), but they are also involved in the reconstruction of the Twin Towers. It should be of great concern that projects such as these are funded by illegal activities, but perhaps these potential ethical minefields are overlooked, even though they afford a level of respectability to the criminal organisations that fund them.
Inevitably, ‘Gomorrah’ will be compared with Hollywood gangster films, and the closest comparison is probably ‘Goodfellas’. Both are based on in-depth and investigative accounts on the activities of criminal organisations. Although Garrone does not employ the stylistic touches that Scorsese did, preferring to present the Camorra simply as it is; a violent and brutal community without sympathy and compassion. However, Garrone uses a number of technical flourishes to emphasis his attitude towards the Camorra. One superbly directed scene implicates Don Ciro, the accountant, from the violence he sought to distance himself from. As he leaves a bloodbath, the camera begins directly above him, and then turns 360 degrees, as if to witness the violence around Don Ciro, that he is partly responsible for, which precipitates a complete crisis of conscience. Garrone also presents this community in a nutshell in an early long shot of the entire housing estate, which focuses on its brutal architectural design, but shot from a distance allows the audience to absorb its insularity and ability to entrap its inhabitants. Avoiding the pitfalls of many films of the genre, of mythologising its protagonists and affording them a tragic dimension, ‘Gomorrah’ is an intense adaptation of the Robert Saviano novel, which reveals the violence and brutality that characterises this organisation, but also hints at the social issues that allows such organisations to flourish.