Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Salvatore Cantalupo, Tony Servillo, Carmine Paternoster, Ciro Petrone, Marco Macor
Director: Matteo Garrone
Runtime: 137 min.
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
Genre: Crime, Drama

        If cinema were defined as an approximation of reality, then Gomorra would be its most shining example. Allow me to put it as simply as possible – cinema might have never been more truthful, more brutal, more visceral, more intense, more unrelenting, more savage, more powerful, more intimate, more stunning and more real than this epic crime masterpiece from Matteo Garrone. It has no beginning, no end, and no formal structure. There’s a sense of randomness to proceedings, one that doesn’t betray a sense of construction or falsehood. One doesn’t feel any sense of method to it, and if there is one, which I’m double-sure there is, it ought to be one of the most subtle and brilliant usage of the medium ever. It is an explosion of spontaneity burst out of observation of the highest kind, one that doesn’t evoke a sense of portrayal or depiction, but instead puts us smack in the middle of that world and asks us to sort it for ourselves.
        I have always believed that cinema, by its very structure, is handicapped when it comes to being an informative medium, and is infinitely better equipped than all mediums when being an emotional one. Now, I’m not sure anymore, and my belief might have been very well, if I choose the correct word, shattered. Gomorra doesn’t provide us a formal narrative flow to hang to, for a story by its very definition is a work of artifice. Instead, the film engulfs us, and then overwhelms us with information, with detail, with people, and with their lives. The point is not just to tell you the stories of a few lives, but to make you feel and realize and then blow you away with the activities and scope of the one of the world’s deadliest crime organizations – Camorra. One might be tempted to use the word authentic, and I would ask not to, for that feels too artificial a word to describe the experience of the film.
        The film is brimming with details, minor details, everyday details. We applauded when Marlon Brando spoke like a gangster, and we watched great films about gangsters and the portrayal of the drama of their world. This one here is that world, and has those people inhabiting it. It is amazing how little information we’re handed out, and how little is done by way of the conventional approach to character development. We learn nothing about them, except for their actions, and yet we care for them. We’re scared, we find ourselves right on the edge, endlessly fascinated and gripped by the world we’re asked to live in for those couple of hours. Most times, a film through its elements – camera, script, cinematography, score – feels like an artificial intelligence, always knowing more than us, always influencing our thoughts, and asking of us to feel in a certain way. A camera always knows where to move, a script always knows where to cut to, the score knows where to underline the mood. Not here, not in this brutal minimalism. That is why talking of the film externally, and praising it in terms of its performances, or its screenplay, or its editing would be pointless, and in a way disrespectful of the achievement at hand. Suffice to say, filmmaking doesn’t get any better. There is neither the romanticism, the glorification nor is there a hint of contempt. This is a whole new level of filmmaking, one where we and the film are one, and the film serves no other purpose than to be an approximation of our journey through that Neapolitan world, and what we perceive is what we get.
        If my description of the film is devoid of specifics and instead is given mostly to generalizations, that is because I choose to thus. How else can I describe to you otherwise misses me. Let me give you a fair approximation of the experience. I’m not sure how valid it is to invoke these films here, but think of Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart and try now to remember City of God. Try to remember the experience of those films, and drain whatever cinematic artifice (howsoever appropriate) there does exist within these films. Now, cross those experiences, and multiply them by five. I say five, because we follow five different lives, each of which run into more. The focus isn’t as much on Camorra the organization as much as it is on the people on its fringes, and the film’s intention seems to be to provide us with examples of how the organization affects these people. I’ll describe in brief for you who those people are, and hope you’ll discover them for yourself.
        We open with shots of a dilapidated building, a congested building which feels like a world within itself. There’s a young boy Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) living there, and his job involves domestic supplies to each of these houses. But then, much like every kid out there, joining the ranks of Camorra at the lowest level is an inevitable fact of their lives. The choice then is to choose which clan. There’s Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), the ageing money man, and he is caught up in these bad times of war between two clans. There’s Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a talented hardworking designer of fashion material, some of which are worn by Hollywood stars on those read carpets. The film is based on Roberto Saviano’s book of the same name, an unflinching masterpiece of journalism (so much so that Saviano is under police protection), and it describes how Angelina Jolie’s high profile wedding dress was a forgery from Naples. There’re two buddies, Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) with hopeless dreams of being the next Tony Montana having blinded their eyes, and in reality being a pain for the clan they work for. And then, there’s Franco (Tony Servillo) who has taken college graduate Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) under his wings to make huge money out of illegal disposal of industrial toxic wastes in the countryside. The purpose, as I have mentioned earlier isn’t to find a common thread between these lives (which I believe is a technique given to artifice), but to overwhelm you with the epic scope of the Camorra activities in nearly all facets of the world of Naples, and the extent of its tentacles to the world beyond. And believe me, you’ll be overwhelmed. Not many times does a film achieve the characteristics of a book, but this one does it with devastating effects. The greatness though is that it affects us emotionally, not in the way films usually do, but something similar to how life does. It is always unpredictable, because we never know its people any more than we know the strangers who surround us.
        I said the film has no beginning, and it has no end. It merely exists as a snapshot of hell. It has existed, and it will always. That it is slowly and gradually realized, carefully surrounding and overpowering us with its brute intensity. Camorra, as an organization, is more horizontal than vertical (Cosa Nostra is vertical in its hierarchy), with many clans simultaneously having a piece of the cake. The film might send us in despair and what we feel is a sense of weakness at the impossibility to cut the million heads of this monster, one which has relations (financial and otherwise) deep into the EU members. Again, let me put it as simply as possible – the time might have finally come to scratch those lists of yours, and to make place for what might possibly be the greatest film on gangsters ever. It is called Gomorra, and it feels like that film which will change the way films are made. And if it doesn’t, it ought to.

Note: While you’re at it, there’re very few things out there that are more worth your festive season money than Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah. It’s available at Landmark.


srikanth said...

Hi Satish,

Nice read, brutal is the only word I could sum up the film in... That rawness of mafia films is back after so many years...

Any year end special coming up or is that going to be clubbed with Oscar predictions?

man in the iron mask said...

Oh no no. No clubbing of any kind whatsoever.
Year end specials will come our way, but just a trifle late. I plan to release a list of my predictions for the nominations, as well as for the final winners. I plan to of course release a list of the best films of the year. And then, I hope to release a list of my own winners.

I hope you would bear with me.

Thanks again. Keep visiting. You mentioned you need to cover a lot of ground. I hope I keep expanding on that, for there're plenty, plenty more reviews coming our way for this year.

Satish Naidu

Sukhjot said...

"It is an explosion of spontaneity burst out of observation of the highest kind, one that doesn’t evoke a sense of portrayal or depiction, but instead puts us smack in the middle of that world and asks us to sort it for ourselves."

Could not have agreed more Satish.
Absolutely spot on with the review!

Keep writing...

man in the iron mask said...

You know Sukhjot, there're few greater pleasures I have experienced in life than the joy I feel when I seem to have grabbed the core or the essence of a film. When it is a great film, it feels all the more special. Feels as if you've gained a new insight in life. Sounds kinda crazy, doesn't it? I know.

Anonymous said...

If you dug Ramin Bahrani's 'Man Push Cart,' be sure to check out his latest film 'Goodbye Solo.' It opens in theaters on March 27th. You can check out the trailer and theater listings at www.goodbyesolomovie.com.

BTW, brutal as it is, Gomorra is amazing.