- RatedM18 /GenreCrime, Drama
Rating: 4 out of 5
There’s a scene in Gomorrah where two young Italian thugs point their hands at each other, thumbs and fingers cocked liked guns, and scream: “I’m number one! I’m Tony Montana.”
For those unfamiliar with gangster movies, the two were aping Al Pacino in Scarface (1983), a film in which a poor Cuban immigrant rises to the top of the Florida mafia hierarchy through sheer ballsy swagger.
This is not what happens in Gomorrah. The thugs -- disaffected, uneducated, even stupid -- clearly miss the irony of the Pacino film, and their mention of it is itself ironic.
For Gomorrah, set in an economic ditch in Naples, features none of the satirical excess and hyperbolic style of Brian De Palma’s cult classic.
Based on a non-fiction exposé by journalist Roberto Saviano (whose book took five years to write and, on it publication, forced its author into hiding), the docudrama stars (if that’s the right word) real-life street urchins, and depicts crime and squalor without the editing panache of its Brazilian predecessor, City of God (2002).
There are no fast cars, no fast women, and no golden jacuzzis in this film; only brutal poverty, rampant unemployment, and hordes of gangsters protecting territories that seem to contain little worth protecting.
Director Matteo Garrone captures this milieu with a keen but cold, unromantic eye.
Shooting in handheld verité style, Garrone’s aim is not to tell a story in the conventional sense; there is no intricate plot driving the film, no single protagonist to follow and sympathise with.
Instead, Garrone strives to portray -- to record, piece by patient piece -- the daily goings-on of an ignorant community that infests and infects itself in the most pedestrian of ways.
An Italian tailor, wanting only to make a decent living from his second rate ‘couture’ skills, is gunned down for earning a little extra from giving sewing lessons to Chinese competitors in a neighbouring textile factory.
A would-be entrepreneur, leveraging on the scores of abandoned quarries on the outskirts of Naples, sets up a waste disposal business, and ends up poisoning what little agricultural activity might be eked out of the impoverished land.
The young thugs who start out as Pacino wannabes celebrate the unwitting discovery of a stash of firearms, but are later summarily disposed of in a most unglamorous fashion.
Picked off like ticks on a dog’s back, there is little sense of waste when these characters are dispatched banally.
That is part of Garrone’s point. Viewers used to Hollywood stories and neat resolutions will be frustrated by the film’s style and pace.
But those who can see the filmmakers’ intentions will appreciate the dogged integrity with which they pursue their subject, and understand why Gomorrah -- in demystifying a mythic criminal clan -- has garnered the praise and slew of prestigious awards it has.
About Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).