Gomorra (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Matteo Garrone
viewed: 03/01/09 at Elmwood Rialto Cinemas, Berkeley, CA

Gomorra, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is the brutal Italian film about the uber-brutal Comorra crime family of Naples, Italy.  The film is based on a book of the same name by Roberto Saviano, a work of non-fiction, exposing the depth and horrors of the Comorra world, a expose that has Saviano in hiding for his life.  Gomorra the film is a fictionalized version of some of this content, told through five main stories that illuminate different aspects of the mob and its reach and ruthlessness.

It’s nasty stuff.

And brilliant.

The film’s style is realistic.  I don’t know how to call it “Italian neo-neo-Realism“, since it is Italian and utilizes the techniques and tonalities achieved by using mostly non-actors to play the roles of the gangsters and the children, the designers and the corporate pollutors.  Shot with a good deal of hand-held camerawork and a street-view sensibility of not always knowing exactly what’s happening or going to happen.  In fact, you feel kind of certain that everybody could die at any given moment and you don’t begin to know who is less trust-worthy than the others.

In fact, toward the end of the film, a group of young gangsters, wanting to avenge the shooting of a close friend, get themselves pumped up at the mortuary, not having a clue who to punish, who set him up, who to revenge upon.  But not to let that stop them.  The mantra is “you’re either with us or against us” at any given time.  And that can shift all too easily, very, very quickly.

If you are the fashion designer or the young underling of a corporate pollution manager, you don’t realize how connected you are to the mob until you try to look the other way even once.

It’s scary.  The walkways of the public housing crawl with young thugs.  The buildings get bombed.  Families get whacked.  The whole place is falling to pieces.  It’s a Surreal nightmare of a world of no ethics that can’t be solved without bullets.  When children are recruited to drive toxic waste trucks because the regular drivers consider them too dangerous.  Where getting your hands on drugs or automatic weapons is easier than getting a job.

It’s a scary, powerful portrait.

It’s interesting, too, how at one point, the two young hoodlums imitate Tony Montana from Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), referencing a glorified gangster, an icon to thugs even when that portrait was meant to be both admired and despised.  We now have the new icons, the scrawny teenagers in their underpants and shoes, sloshing around in the mud of a lake, firing serious weaponry and blowing up stuff maniacally.  Even the turns of events that lead to their ends leaves them as potential icons, no matter how pathetic and immature.  Whether other viewers will idolize them or simply be stunned by their brazen emptiness, the imagery is stark and powerful.  It’s the picture that shows in the paper by the review, it’s the image that is emblazened on the poster.  A new iconic image for cinema.

And I don’t mean that as ironically as it might sound.  It’s a film about a mafia that isn’t glorified, isn’t The Sopranos, or Tony Montana, or with some pedigree of faux decency and family.  It’s a wasteland.

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