Another example of me not knowing anything about a film before I watched it. In this case, I actually own it (it was a gift from a couple of years ago … remember, if you gift me a disc, I do eventually get to it). All I was working with was the front cover … if I’d turned it over, I’d have seen a summary, but I didn’t get that far. It shows a man dressed only in skimpy underwear and some ratty sneakers. He is holding a really big gun in his right hand, and he is walking all over a city by the water. I don’t know why, but I seem to have ignored the gun. Truthfully, my thoughts didn’t make much sense … I probably didn’t spend enough time thinking … I thought it would be a movie about poor people in, oh, Turkey or Bulgaria. Some country where I wasn’t familiar with their history of cinema, which would explain why I’d never heard of Gomorrah.
Imagine my surprise when (spoiler alert, but I’m talking the first scene, so if you watch this, you’ll be spoiler free after a minute or two) some guys in a tanning salon get murdered, blown away. If only I’d read the back cover. But this way, Gomorrah could take me by surprise. (The back cover reads, in part, “a stark, shocking vision of contemporary gangsterdom, and one of cinema’s most authentic depictions of organized crime.”) Authentic? Who am I to say. The film is based on a book by a young Italian journalist named Roberto Saviano, who studied the “Camorra” for many years. The ever-trustworthy Wikipedia tells us that this book has sold 10 million copies worldwide. It also explains the consequences Saviano faced after the book was published:
Since 2006, following the publication of his bestselling book Gomorrah (Gomorra in Italian), where he describes the clandestine particulars of the Camorra business, Saviano has been threatened by several Neapolitan "godfathers". The Italian Minister of the Interior has granted him a permanent police escort. Because of his courageous stance, he is considered a "national hero" by author-philosopher Umberto Eco. He lives at a secret location to avoid reprisal attacks … Saviano was also accused by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of defaming the country and being unpatriotic.
Quite a combination, when organized crime and Silvio Berlusconi are after you.
The movie tells five stories about various people whose lives are affected by the organization. These stories are filmed in something approaching a documentary fashion, and feel “authentic”. I didn’t always follow the machinations, but the general idea, that crime involves everyone, and reaches out across the globe, even infiltrating “legitimate” businesses … that part is clear. For me, the most involving of the stories focused on Totò, a teenager who delivers groceries and becomes involved in gang life. But all of them work, and once I fell into the rhythm of the movie, I found the switching between the stories seamless. One spoiler I wish I’d known is that the opening scene sets up the “Scampia feud”, which is an actual event wherein rival factions in the Camorra war against each other. This fact helps explain some of the motivations seen during the movie.
It sounds pretty dry in my descriptions, but that is not the case. What is true is that Gomorrah is anti-romantic. This is not The Godfather … more to the point of these characters, it is not Scarface. The young wannabes wish they were Tony Montana, but there is no glorious excess in their lives. Nothing is appealing about how they live. There is a lot of acceptance of how these lives play out, which is sad in the extreme, and there is little payoff. The scene semi-depicted on the cover is a good example. Marco and Sweet Pea steal some weapons from the gang. They can’t think of anything better to do with the guns than simply shooting them, so they go to a canal and fire the weapons in the air. That’s it … that’s their payoff. (Not to mention what will happen to them when the gang catches up with them.)
Everything in the film has a grimy look … imagine the scenes of Vito, and Michael, in Italy, then cover them with neo-realist touches. Poof, there goes the romanticism.
Gomorrah stands on its own as a very good movie. But it is also a useful counterpart to the gangster films we have grown up with. 9/10. Scarface would make a good double-bill.