Just as the French film The Class upends the high-school-teacher movie by being more realistic than sensationalistic, Italy’s Gomorrah — the 2008 winner of the grand prize at Cannes and known as Gomorra in its native Italian — does the same for the gangster flick.
This grim, bleak snapshot of life amid the camorra — the umbrella term for organized crime in Naples — doesn’t traffic in the larger-than-life mobster myth-making of The Godfather and The Sopranos.
Instead, director Matteo Garrone and co-writer Roberto Saviano (whose book about the Neapolitan Mafia upon which Gomorrah is based reportedly prompted death threats against him), show mob grunt work to be anything but glamorous. It’s tedious and numbing, with none of the hip bombast of a Quentin Tarantino film or the bullet-ridden romanticism of John Woo’s Hong Kong gangster epics. Life in this vision of Naples comes to a sudden, violent end with all the ceremony of a mosquito being swatted at a picnic.
Gomorrah plunges the viewer in the middle of five stories, which take awhile to come into focus. There’s elderly Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a bagman whose duty it is to dole out money to family members whose breadwinners are behind bars; 13-year-old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) who looks up to the hooligans who control the streets; best friends and thugs-in-training Ciro (Ciro Petrone) and Marco (Marco Macor), who fantasize they are living in Scarface’s Miami; dressmaker Franco (Toni Servillo) who upsets the camorra by secretly dealing with immigrant Chinese laborers; and waste-management exec Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) who’s showing a young underling the ins-and-outs of toxic dumping.
There isn’t much hope in this universe, and there are no happy endings. Like the biblical city for which it’s named, Gomorrah presents a doomed and dying society. (Even the closing credits, which note that some camorra money, through front organizations, has been part of the funds set for rebuilding New York’s World Trade Center towers, are meant to send a shiver.) Unlike with Scarface, it’s doubtful that future gangsta rappers will be celebrating the Gomorrah lifestyle.
Cast: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone.
Director: Matteo Garrone.
Screenwriters: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano. Based on the book by Roberto Saviano.
Producer: Domenico Procacci.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 135 minutes. Violence, strong language. In Italian, with English subtitles. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Cosford.