Italian Festival Multi-Winner


25 February 2009| No Comments on Gomarrah     by Sean Chavel


There is this impractical hype surrounding Gomorrah, the new Italian mafia saga import (Italian with English subtitles) which has captured the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes Film Festival as well as a multi-winner at other film festivals, is a hot new sensation worthy of vintage Coppola. There is nothing Coppola-esque grand about Matteo Garrone’s film, instead it’s a raw and objective docudrama of Mob racketeering: operations in construction, tourism, textiles, fuel, food. These aren’t the kind of guys you’d mistake for Corleones – they are beefy Mafioso in gaudy silk shirts and loud gold watches.

This real-life organized crime family in Naples (they are still currently getting away with murder) is responsible for 30 years of corruption and 10,000 deaths in that timeline, according to Garrone and non-fiction author/screenwriter Robert Saviano. These two collaborators are obviously filled with concern to delineate this problem and spread their wealth of knowledge to moviegoers worldwide is noteworthy. Their interest is spread socio-political outrage, not to make a grand “Godfather” parable about broken family ties and shattered loyalty.

At the head of this street-reality empire is Don Circo (Gianfelice Imparato) whose daily operations is to pay off people for making his hits, and paying off others for their silence. Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) is a 13-year old mob runner looking for permanent affiliation into the cartel. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) is a university graduate who takes unethical work in toxic waste management. Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) is a small businessman and tailor who is given a tempting offer by Chinese clothing manufacturers, which sets off bloody fireworks with mob competitors. Finally, in an analog story, two middle-teens (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone), in love with the movie “Scarface,” get in over their heads with the fantasy they can augment their own mob operation.

All of these stories squeeze into a mosaic with the camera almost casually peering in with one story, stepping back, and then checking out another story until everything meshes together. Matter-of-fact sleaze and corruption is manifest in Garrone’s objective point-of-view camera which is avoidant of any stylishness tricks – authentic location shooting lets us absorb real Italian inner-city grub. But while the filmmaker remains impartial to any script outline component, most audiences will be drawn to the two young “Scarface” teens. They end up ripping off the mob when they find an arsenal of weapons that isn’t theirs, taking to the seaside to test out machine guns and rocket launchers on an empty fishing boat, and then riding around town arrogantly until they have thoroughly pissed off the Don.

Morbid fascination aside, the film holds us at arm’s length because lack of character magnetism. While Garrone’s mosaic patching invites us to see the Italian corruption pyramid, the film regrettably has no gravitating trajectory – there is nobody to make us care. In “City of God,” for instance, we root for the boy to rise above the slums to become a photojournalist. If there’s nobody in particular to admire, there is also nobody to loathe intensely. There have been cinematic anti-heroes played by the likes of Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino whom sensationally knock us out with colorful menace, but none of these “Gomorrah” wiseguys have a shred of shimmering charisma. Without a standout villain, the film at least works as an economics-laden how-it-goes-down docudrama of Italian gang operations.

This is a good film but it’s not worth obsessing over or showering with awards (and sure, it’s racked up plenty).  A great film makes one obsess about it – in your dreams, in your wake, in your recreational days-following mental doodlings. The vivid visuals and strapping power of the Corleones is probably what has made Coppola’s “The Godfather” a great and everlasting film over the decades, not the least the tempting desire a moviegoer would have to be ingratiated into the Corleone’s backyard as a base fantasy.  The guys in “Gomarrah” don’t have that kind of appeal, but they are threatening enough to make you want to run for the hills.

137 Minutes. Unrated.


Film Cousins: “The Godfather” (1972); “The Godfather Part II” (1974); “Scarface” (1983); “City of God” (2002, Brazil).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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