The story of Gomorra comes courtesy of Roberto Saviano’s bestselling novel of the same name – a novel that has left the author under police protection since 2006. The title is spliced from Gomorrah, the biblical town usually associated with Sodom, and Camorra, the name of a Neapolitan crime syndicate that turns over a profit of $200 billion annually.
Director Matteo Garrone has taken the complex source material and, with a close team of historical collaborators, produced a mesmerizing miasma of mafia mechanics through five interweaving stories.
In one, we follow Don Ciro, the reluctant and powerless mob donation officer. Garrone traces his footsteps through corridors and alleys as he hands out aid to those who have lost loved ones in the business, until his freedom to roam is decimated when the families begin to battle.
Another concerns Pasquale, a dressmaker exhausting himself making designer knockoffs to support his family. He finally gives in to financial pressure and risks his life crossing the territorial, tribal and race lines for extra Euros.
The most expansive tale focuses on two boys who become lost in a dream (they fantasize in concrete pits about Brian De Palma’s Scarface). When they get their hands on a stash of guns the power goes to their heads and brings them into conflict with the vain and vested ruling interests.
There is no glamour to be had here. Everything is kept at ground level by the dusty, dry, beige palette of the film that portrays Scampia (the setting for much of the action) as a place in stagnation. There isnt even a soundtrack. In a documentary style Garrone avoids using any sound that isn’t totally at one with the plot. Such an action locks the audience in with the drama footstep by footstep.
At 135 mins, the film does flag a bit. This has much to do with the elliptical structure: don’t expect sensational cliff-hangers, this is an evenly paced film. Eventually the narrative does piece together perfectly, but only as far as a point-blank ending of fierce, cold realism.
Charismatic and stylistically elegant Garrone and his team have given grace to a project that exposes the social brutality of the criminal, insidious, globalised world. To be as frank as the film is – Gomorra is as politically trailblazing, stylistically astonishing, emotively challenging and charged with energy as anything from European cinema in recent years. It brazenly reflects the lives of one country’s people, unabashedly critical and affectionate towards them in a cinematic language that is inimitably Italian.