27 December, 2008

Gomorra (2008)

Death is a dirty business

You can forget Tony Montana, Don Corleone. Forget about it - from Matteo Garrone (Primo amore (2004)), Gomorra is not a sweeping crime opera, inhabited by the traditional 'gentlemen' gangsters - in fact, much of the story pans out in a huge, crumbling housing estate on the outskirts of Naples, a warren of apartments and catwalks where every move is watched by drug dealers' sentries.

We are thrust into five, interconnected stories - outwardly respectable businessman Mr Franco (Toni Servillo) is busy destroying the landscape around the city with the pollution from his industry efforts, and meanwhile two Scarface-obsessed teenagers (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) have begun their own war against the local Camorra. Then, there's a likeable, ambitious youngster (Salvatore Abruzzese, excellent) who delivers groceries for his mother’s shop but wants to become a proper mobster. At the same time, an impoverished tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) in an illegal workshop is busy making cheap copies of designer frocks, a skill that has caught the attention of a new gang, the Chinese, who lure him away with the promise of a fortune. Finally, there’s an elderly foot-soldier (Gianfelice Imparato), a bag-man who delivers cash to mob-affiliated families, small payments rewarding loyalty or silence, but who gets caught up in a turf war between rival gangs.

Garrone proves that he is not at all bothered with the genre's archetypal grand gestures or proclamations, preferring instead to draft a catalogue of how all-pervasive and corrosive the Mafia influence has become. It's a chilling, brutal mosaic of cross-generational corruption, violence, greed and power, spiked with beautifully presented and astonishingly powerful set-pieces. Gomorra's finest achievement is that it doesn't play to the stereotype of Italy being nothing but the home of gangsters. Resembling news reports from a war zone and adhering closely to journalist Roberto Saviano’s best-selling non-fiction book (as a result of which the author has had to go into hiding, fearing for his life), Gomorra shows that, for many Neapolitans, the underworld has become the real world. Fair enough, it opens with a shootout reminiscent of Scorcese's Goodfellas (1990) or The Sopranos, but even those masterpieces are too smooth and polished next to the gritty, dirty and horrifying universe depicted in the film. A worthy EFA winner.

Aside from winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenwriter and Best Cinematographer at this year's European Film Awards, and the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes, Gomorra has been nominated for numerous gongs elsewhere. Click here for details.

136 mins. In Italian, Mandarin, French.

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