Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Gomorra": The world is the Camorras

“Gomorra” opens with a surprise mafia shoot-down, at of all places, a tanning salon. Stocky men in panties lather themselves with oil, unsuspicious of the cancerous blue light, or the mafia brother behind them with a gun in his trunks. This opening sequence rolls before credits or even an establishing shot, and represents the film’s revisionist turn in cinema. For the gangster tan, like the gangster film, is a false image that has become a commodity. But just as the tans are revealed as artificial, the next two hours of “Gomorrah” prove Hollywood’s stylish rendition of mafia violence an utter lie with dire consequences. Now, at long last, Hollywood’s gangster film has a contender, for the distant Italian reality of mafia devastation in Naples has shown cinema its face. With no apologies, kindness, or glamour, “Gomorra” exposes how the omnipotent Camorra gang controls Naples and all of its layers, (tunnels, highways, and quarries) with five interrelated narratives of corruption.

Though the tanning salon does not appear again, it remains an important symbol; for the film significantly treats body-conscious teens that are lured into the gang-life by its superficial trappings, (clothing, motorbikes, and cars). One is reminded of Truffaut’s “400 Coups” when Toto (who appears to be thirteen or fourteen) stares in the mirror during several long-takes, however this time the conclusion is less open, and more disturbing (eventually Toto decides the Camorra gang is a more important family than his own). If “Scarface,” the 1932 Hawks’ version or the De Palma production of 1983, fetishized the gangster life by violently destroying the American moral code, “Gomorra” now annihilates this perversion. Two teen boys who quote “Scarface” while playing guns, and believe that “the world is yours” sign might as well be placed on their block in Naples, die a gruesome death for their innocent belief in the Hollywood gangster and the guns and coke that added authentencity to their Tony Montana impersonations. (Evidently, De Palma gave permission for this use of “Scarface,” but I cannot find his reaction to “Gomorra.”)

The film is not only about teens; a large portion of the film, and a still larger portion of the book on which “Gomorra” is based, explain how haute couture is essentially a mob enterprise, and how the dumping of toxic waste is not regulated by the government but orchestrated underground by the Mafioso. The violence in “Gomorrah” is primarily aural, this is not to say that the images of death and gunfire do not equal that of any mob flick staple, but that the sound design is the most emphatic and terrifying to date. By the end of the film, the frequent gunfire and bloody web of narratives have frazzled and affronted the spectator. This makes the didactic series of statistics a welcome solidifying summary of what you have learned; the numbers are clear, the mob is bad and controls everything in Italy. But despite the fast heartbeat and loose editing, one is the wiser for viewing “Gormorra.” Matteo Garrone’s film translation of Robert Saviano’s book, is an overdue response to Hollywood’s vision of the Italian gangster, and an important film puzzle piece to the truth of global corruption, its sides snugly touching “Syriana” and “City of God.”

1 comment:

gar said...

thanks for the great review, nicole! no way i'd sit through this movie, but i enjoyed reading about it.