February 26, 2009

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Gomorrah (R)
The stories of a handful of people revolve around the corruption and violence in Naples caused by the ruling organized crime group in Gomorrah, an Italian anti-gangster gangster film.

The gangster kitsch that is part of most American mob movies (Goodfellas, Analyze This) is personified here by Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), two half-witted wannabes whom we first meet as they run around an abandoned building pretending to shoot at each other and shouting lines from Scarface. Appearing to be in their young 20s, these boys puff out their chests and talk about running the crime in the neighborhood but they quickly step on the feet of the real bad guys and quickly seem like nothing but liabilities.

The other characters in this fractured saga reflect the realities that Marco and Ciro’s posturing ignore, like the corruption that forces dressmaker Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) to hide in a car trunk when he goes to his job helping Chinese seamstresses create high-end clothes. His business is controlled by the local mob, and by helping the Chinese (a way to earn a little extra for himself) he’s harming the mob’s business interests — not a longevity-promoting state of affairs. Then there’s the fear and violence that leads Toto (Nicolo Manta), a kid barely tall enough to fill out a basketball jersey, to join a local gang and put friends in peril. The landscape is filled with cracked and crumbling buildings and we sense that the people are cracked and crumbling as well — scared to stand up to the mob, stuck in this violent world.

I’m not sure that this multi-part attempt to tell the story of the horrible realities (rather than the Bada Bing pop culture illusion) of the mob is as successful as one or two of these stories alone would have been. Particularly for those of us outside Italy, this kind of crime organization does not fit with the more familiar mafia that movies and TV shows like The Sopranos show us. A little more time on the nuts and bolts of how these criminals operate could have helped us understand exactly what kind of hold this kind of mob has on its society. (Do a bit of Internet reading on the Camorra, what Wikipedia describes as confederation of crime clans, that the book this movie was based on looks at. It’s a different kind of mob than we’re used to and it could have used more explanation.) This structure does allow us to see various parts of the city and how people — the dressmaker for example — who you wouldn’t expect to be weighed down by the society-wide (or at least it seems society-wide) corruption can get caught up in the same bloody mess as the kids dealing drugs or, like Marco and Circo, the kids sticking up the kids who deal drugs.

What makes Gomorrahinteresting, and different, is this ugliness. There is no honor, this is no alternate economy where gangsters are just another kind of businessmen. People are hurt for no good reason here and the knowledge of that wears on everyone. B-

Rated R. Directed by Matteo Garrone and written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso and Roberto Saviano (from a book by Roberto Saviano),Gomorrah (called Gomorra in Italian, with subtitles) is two hours and 17 minutes long and is distributed in limited release and on Comcast On Demand by IFC Films.