Reviews - Gomorrah
Reviewed By John Stakes
In Puzo's world the Sicilian branch of "The Family" was just that: a close knit criminal syndicate composed of blood related and soaked members who ruthlessly controlled large sections of the criminal underworld and whose power and influence became part of the fabric of Italian, Sicilian and American society. Part of their appeal lay in the grandeur of their lifestyle built on the spoils of their organised criminal activities daringly executed by mobsters and hoodlums in the full glow of the national media.
The reality of course was somewhat removed from the rather stylised and glamorised depiction of this strain of gangster life but nothing could have prepared us for Matteo Garrone's take on the Camorra, the Naples counterpart of the Cosa Nostra, in his Cannes 2008 prize winning film Gomorrah, the rescheduled screening of which took place at the Alhambra last Saturday. Garonne's film was based on the 2006 book of the same name by 29 year old investigative journalist Roberto Saviano which "lifted the lid" on this branch of Mafia life which now finds Saviano under police protection for his pains and for the rest of his life..
Garrone concentrated on the street life impact of the Camorra's stranglehold on the Naples' community by presenting five episodes in the lives of the locals which never interlocked but were linked by the Camorra's cankerous corruption of normal family life. There was no escape. Mafia life dominated every aspect of everyone’s miserable lives. There were several bouts of sudden shocking violence none of which appeared to cause a single tear to be shed as if to demonstrate the extent to which the local population had become numbly inured to such events.
The community's life blood was cash. Money was seen to change hands regularly as debtors were called to account to their Mafia masters who were drawn from the same community as their neighbours. As the film progressed it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between the oppressed and their oppressors when some of the local youth began to mimic their masters.
We were denied any introduction to the Camorra's elite so there was no contrast between their lifestyles and the leeched lives of those off whom they fed. The only possible route out of poverty for the illegal immigrants, petty criminals, addicts and children who made up much of the population, was to do the Camorra's bidding, but this proved to be a route paved with cul-de-sacs and literally dead ends as the camera prowled the alleyways and tenement back yards of Naples in scenes which would never have received the blessing of the Naples Tourist Office.
The episodic narrative did not allow the audience the time or opportunity to feel involved in the lives of these unfortunates so that the sudden shocking demise of many of them left this reviewer with more a feeling of indifference than concern. Even if this was intentional we were let down by some un-illuminating improvised dialogue again so it was left to Garrone's roving camera to move the stories along. How some talented European directors would benefit from a decent screenwriter or improvisation coach!
Garrone's film was certainly powerful, shocking, and grittily realistic, but lacking any other perspective, it became mired in its gutter view of life so it was difficult to feel any emotion other than an appreciation of Garrone's ability to capture the reality of this slice of Italian life. There was certainly a feeling of coming up for air as the final credits rolled and we emerged into the last of the evening light!
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