(Gomorra in Italian)

Cannes Film Fest 2008 (in competition)–One of the highlights of this year's Cannes Film Fest, “Gomorrah,” Matteo Garrone's harrowing, ultra-realistic chronicle of the Italian Mafia may be one of the most detailed and scary accounts of a crime organization made by any filmmaker, American or Italian.

The courageous distributor IFC released “Gomorrah,” which is Italy's entry for the best foreign-language Oscar, in the U.S. in early December for awards considerations and then theatrically on February 13.

Based on the best-selling, highly acclaimed expose of Neapolitan crime by Roberto Saviano, “Gomorrah” is not so much a loose adaptation as one that condenses numerous details and plots, shaping them into a dramatically gripping and coherent narrative. This is not a minor feat considering the massive scope of the well-researched book. (One of the film's scripters, Saviano is living in Italy under tight police protection, after several threats to his life.)

Utilizing a powerful docudrama style, “Gomorrah” lives up to its title, delivering a multi-layered epic of biblical proportions about the cruel barbarism that begins within the Mafia and infiltrates (or influences) every layer of present-day society, in this case, modern-day Naples, though it bears relevancy to any other Big City crime cartel in the world.

The film's narrative ingenuity is based on interweaving five storylines that at first seem random, only to later emerge as interrelated along several themes, levels, and dimensions. For starters, all the subplots revolve around the commodities of money, power, and violence (or rather blood), values that the protagonists (and by extension all residents) of the province of Naples and Caserta confront on a daily basis. Under these circumstances, the very notion of normal or ordinary existence is out of the question, because there is no such thing. Instead, most of the individuals are depicted as lacking choice, forced to abide by the regulation of the Gomorrah system—or else.

The highly violent saga is set in a cruel, seemingly recreated and invented world, but one that feels deeply rooted in reality. We first meet Don Ciro, or “Il Sottomarino,” a man who pays the families of the prisoners associated with his clan, an organization with forceful, undisputed command of the turf. Sharp yet discreet, Do Ciro carries out his job efficiently, that is without getting emotionally involved. Turning point for him is when the clan begins to crumble, and he's uncertain as to who he needs to obey and take orders from, which means his very survival is in question.

In contrast, Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), the youngest figure, is only 13, but not knowing what lies ahead of him, can't wait to grow up and be a real man. Hence, he begins his socialization, which is more like military training, not in school, but on the streets. Soon, like all the other characters, Toto has to make a fateful, irreversible decision.

Marco and Piselli (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) represent and dream of another kind of reality, a Hollywood reality, as defined by the cynical and violent films of Brian De Palma. The scene, in which they run on the beach in their underwear shooting their machine guns in hysterical frenzy, and blowing up a fishing boat just out of boredom, is one of the film's creepiest images. This duo also faces rude awakening, as they are perceived by the system as hoodlums, stray dogs whose macho bravado is a facade, and more importantly, an attitude that disturbs the orderly routine of their business.

The most educated individual is Roberto, a university grad who wants to find proper employment. Thus, when Franco (the great actor Tony Servillo) offers him a steady employment in the field of toxic waste, he grabs the opportunity to make good money and enjoy the other benefits, only to realize that the reality of his task is disconcerting, to say the least.

Finally, there's Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), the gifted tailor who works under that table for a small enterprise sub-contracted by the haute couture of the fashion industry. The Chinese competitors offer opportunities to learn the secrets of the trade, and unable to resist, he's easily seduced by what he thinks will be most gratifying work, failing to foresee that he literally puts his life in danger.

Each of the stories, which functions like piece in one big mosaic, is riveting to observe and the truly grim and depressing film has an enormous cumulative power, not least because director Garrone and his screenwriters have paid equal attention to characterization and the socio-economic-political contexts in which their individual live and die.

Like other professional organizations, the mafia is based on a clear hierarchy, and early on we get the impression of Toto starting out at the bottom, eager to move up quickly through the ranks.

Inevitably, with a saga that's sprawling and run 136 minutes, the film contains some weaker scenes, but there are few of those, and the strong ones more than compensate for the shortcomings. There's a wonderful sequence that intercuts between Toto delivering drugs in a shabby building, while the same building but on another level hosts a festive wedding reception.

Unlike Fernando Mereilles' “City of God,” which impressive as it was in depicting juvenile crime and delinquency in Brazilian ghettos, still used a bravura, ostentatious style to which was often distracting, there are no superfluous, extraneous, or showy scenes here, and Garrone is able to maintain his detached and distanced perspective despite the escalating violence on screen, and despite his moral disgust with the situation.

Few American crime films, Coppola's masterpiece “The Godfather” series included, have so thoroughly and bleakly depicted an organization in which crime is not a deviant activity but “normal” life itself, and not the seedy underbelly of the city but the belly of the beast itself.


Toto – Salvatore Abruzzese Don Ciro – Gianf
elice Imparato Maria – Maria Nazionale Franco – Toni Servillo Roberto – Carmine Paternoster Pasquale – Salvatore Cantalupo Iavarone – Gigio Morra Marco – Marco Macor Piselli/Ciro – Ciro Petrone


A 01 Distribution release (in Italy) of a Fandango production in collaboration with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed by Matteo Garrone. Screenplay: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano, based on the book by Saviano. Camera: Marco Onorato. Editor: Marco Spoletini. Music: Robert Del Naja, Neil Davidge, Euan Dickinson. Production designer: Paolo Bonfini. Costume designer: Alessandra Cardini. Sound: Leslie Shatz, Daniela Cassani, Maricetta Lombardo. Creative producer: Laura Paolucci.

Running time: 136 Minutes.