Gomorrah , an Italian film by Matteo Garrone and winner of Cannes 2008 Grand Prix, is set to open February 13 in LA and NY. An early contender for an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category, it did not make the final cut. But maybe it should have.
Based on the mega best-selling 2006 crime expose’ by Italian journalist Roberto Saviano of the same title, Gomorrah is a straight-forward, gritty, and tragic visual immersion narrative about the Camorra, the mafia-like organization that runs vice and launders money into legitimate businesses (even to a company or companies that are rebuilding the World Trade Center) in the Naples-Caserta zone of southern Italy.
Following the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht’s dramatic theory that privileges narrative over plot, Gomorrah begins “in medias res” and stays there. The setting is a tanning salon in Naples or nearby Caserta. A few vain Italian men are brutally murdered as their nails are drying. And things get worse from there, ending with only a hint of hope, which appears to be entirely as unlikely as the continued domination of the Camorra is inevitable.
The film follows five threads: Don Ciro, a timid middle-man who collects rent and distributes cash to former mob enforcers; a 13-year-old grocery delivery boy, Toto’, who is drawn into collaborating with a mob hit; Roberto, an educated young man who takes a job as an assistant to a executive in waste-management; Pasquale, an underpaid haute couture tailor who teaches Chinese dressmakers the craft on the sly; and a pair of young mafia wannabe’s, Marco and Ciro, who try to carve out their own niche’ of the Camorra’s territory.
The hand-held camera style, becoming more and more popular as a way to re-create realities for audiences, is powerful here. Even the tiny moment of humor is blasted away in gunfire.
Greed, some sex, power, vice of every kind, has the upper hand. Police are misled and impotent.
This is Italy, I think, so I look for religion, or some form of influence of the Catholic faith. The only signs are a crucifix above the bed of a dying man who keeps selling off parts of his farmland as a toxic dump for waste from Italy’s industrial North, a cross earring, and a large statue of Padre Pio being lowered from an apartment. There is no sign of morality anywhere until Roberto finds the strength to follow his humanity, his conscience. Someone in the Church may want to take a look near home, that is, the south of Rome, to see the need for meaningful faith formation, if this film (and others about Sicily, such as I Cento Passi of 2000- an excellent film) are to be believed.
Gomorrah is about the part of Italy they don’t show you on the tours.
The Godfather Trilogy in comparison? The films, though they showed enough of the mafia to give a sense of it in the US., romanticized the reality. Gomorrah lets us experience it up close and personal.
Gomorrah is an apt title for the film, too; I think all the deadly sins are here, plus some I don’t think I have ever heard of. Gomorrah was the name for one of the impenitent cities of the Bible (along with Sodom and a couple of others in Genesis (Chapters 10, 13, 18, 19.) In Genesis 18 Abraham pleads with God; he asks if there are 50, 45, 30, or 10 just people, will God still destroy the city of Sodom (and Gomorrah)? God says no, if he finds even ten just people, he will not destroy the cities. Alas. The cities were destroyed.
In the film Gomorrah, we only meet three or four just people.
According to most sources, author Roberto Saviano, has received numerous death threats and is now under police escort-protection. Umberto Eco calls Saviano a national hero.
But will anything change?
Sicily’s mafia started as a way for peasants to gain rights against landlords in the 18th century. Then the mafia became the ruling class, the shadow government. A real case for what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire described as “the oppressed becoming the oppressors.” There is no information in Gomorrah about how the Camorra began; once again, this is what books are for.
This is an important film, I think. Students of politics, economics,sociology, history, and I hope theology, will put on their anthropology lenses and look for meaning and maybe a way for social change in this hidden situation that very few people talk about.
Gomorrah is no feel-good movie but it is courageous. Too bad the Academy (or whoever chooses a country’s submission) looked the other way. Often the only way for justice to flourish is to shed light on darkness, to name the darkness. This is one thing Gomorrah does really well.