Gomorra (2008): Italy – directed by Matteo Garrone

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence and language and maybe some other bad stuff

Gomorra is a neorealist gangster movie, similar in tone to City of GodLa Haine also comes to mind.  It’s interesting how these three foreign gangster movies (though La Haine really isn’t a gangster flick) seem to have quite a bit in common, despite coming from Italy, Brazil, and France. Gomorra, unlike City of God, tends to use a restrained camera; non of the rapid jump cuts and camera throwing that Fernando Meirelles used.  This helps.  The grittiness and dark atmosphere help convey the mood quite nicely.  Naples is not the place to grow up or have a family.

I have to confess, I did not understand much of what happened.  And I was blessed with English subtitles that my sister did not have (when she saw the movie in Milan last fall).  There are approximately 8000 characters in the film.  There is no central protagonist to keep the story anchored.  However, after watching it I read this Guardian article, and it helped me appreciate the film more.   There are several main story threads.  Apparently the Cimorra (a gangster group) practically owns Naples.  Everything is done through them.  But there are clans within the Cimorra who don’t mind killing each other.  One main thread involves two clans getting into a war with each other, just as young Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) is starting to be brought into the ranks of one clan.

Another thread involves two young homoerotic teens who decide to create trouble and take over the territory for themselves.  They steal some guns and go off shooting them in their underwear.  They do go to a strip club place, so I guess they aren’t totally homosexual.  But they are stupid, and eventually get involved in more than they know how to handle.

Another plotline involves a businessman who makes deals to store toxic waste.  He then rents land from people in the countryside to store the waste, poisoning the land and making a profit in the process.  His is a rather more benign tale; more like a shady businessman than a murderous gangster.

In addition there is a story of a guy who takes the families their money.  Apparently the gangster’s families all live in the same projects together, and he goes around and pays them weekly.  Finally, (I think) there is a tailor who makes fancy dresses. He works hard and is used for his talent.  He gets involved with a Chinese factory, training the Chinese workers, and then gets into trouble.

After reading the article I understood that the film was trying to explain how the Cimorra is involved in every aspect of life in Naples; no business, legal or otherwise, can exist without their knowledge and assistance.  I am too ignorant about the events over there to fully appreciate the film.

Here’s what I can say, though.  It’s an interesting movie, fairly nicely made.  It has a unique style.  A lot of foregrounds get washed out or are not in focus, as the camera lingers on the background.  The violence is not glamorous.  People get shot, but the camera doesn’t adore them as it does in other films.  The characters are interesting, but there are too many.  I would have appreciated someone to tie the threads together, someone to either sympathize with or hate regardless of the storyline.  As it is, some of the threads seem to have no connection to the others, mainly the toxic waste dumping.

The author of the book the movie is based on is in hiding, because the Cimorra desperately want to kill him for exposing all their dirty laundry.  For this reason the film seems to exist as something more than itself.  In a case like this, if the film is reasonably well put together, it will receive a lot of attention on release.  People like to get enlightened about social problems, and this film does that.  However, if you’re expecting a standard gangster flick, or a movie that is consistently coherent, you will probably be disappointed.  Those with an interest in Italian gangster will still enjoy it, but those without any sort of background knowledge might not be so enthusiastic.


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