Northside SF  

New film from Italy does not romanticize oppression of organized crime
By Bruce Bellingham

Photo: Mario SpadaEven the most innocuous decision in the slums of Naples and Caserta can be fatal. In Matteo Garrone’s film Gomorrah, an obvious play on words for the Camorra crime family that runs every level of life in this region of Italy, there’s a war in progress. The characters keep talking about it, but you’re not quite sure what this war’s about, nor which side anyone is on at any given moment. It’s a war of survival. It makes for a terrifying suspense throughout the whole desolate 2 hour 15 minute epic. 

The Camorra run everything in the absence of any really effective government. You might recall the garbage strike in Naples last year that went on for more than 12 months. The Italian government had to bring in the Army to guard the incinerators they had set up, only with limited success. It’s truly anarchy.

Garrone shows the corruption and extortion on several levels. Marco and Ciro are two young men, boys really, who are more like stray dogs. We never see them even talk about school, or their parents, or their families. They want to be like Tony Montana in Scarface. They live for the next heist. Because they have no one to steal from but criminals, they’re doomed. We only hope their end will not be too horrible.

Roberto is a university student who would have good opportunities anywhere else. But here, he is convinced to accept a position in toxic waste management. The Camorra run this, too. He’s sickened by what he sees.

Pasquale is a gifted tailor who decides to strike out on his own – but he must do that discreetly. The mob has eyes and ears everywhere. They discourage independent entrepreneurship.
We have high hopes for Toto, a gifted 13-year-old. He undergoes a rite of passage that requires him to wear a bulletproof vest. Our hopes fade quickly.

Garrone did the camera work himself, using mostly nonprofessional actors on location in the gritty, sad landscapes of this urban wasteland.

Gomorrah was the Grand Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival and is the Italian entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2008 Oscars. It’s a powerful movie, a real indictment of stunning barbarism. You won’t find any amusing “I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse” kind of thing. They’re just thugs and killers. There’s some really first-rate acting here. It’s hard to tell if we’re not seeing the real thing.
Gomorrah: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Center (at Battery), opens Feb. 27; tickets $8.25–$10.50 at; for show times and other recorded information, call 415-267-4893

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