Aug 14, 2009

The Plot: Gomorrah is a reference to both the biblical cities of Sodom & Gomorrah, as may have guessed, and the “Camorra” the criminal organization that this film is about. The Camorra may not be as infamous as their better known counterparts La Cosa Nostra, but they’re every bit as vicious and have killed more than any criminal organization in the past thirty years. Gomorrah takes place at the street level, dealing with several stories all connected by the characters and their ties to the Camorra. Such as a man who’s job it is to visit the projects and hand out paychecks to various tenants on a daily basis, but who is running into trouble when a rival faction decides to start cracking down on his job. Another story revolves around a designer who is invited to come teach at a Chinese textile mill in order to help their own bootlegging business – this goes against the Camorrah’s own bootlegging outfit. Two of the other stories the film shows how children are affected by the rampant crime and the insanity laid in front of their eyes on a daily basis. Gomorrah is a film that defines crime in a gritty and brutally violent way.

The Review: If you ever have a discussion on cinema with me at any given point you’ll probably get roped into a discussion on the “crime” genre in one way or another. It is the one area of the film spectrum that I find myself most fascinated with and the one area that pretty much all nations can identify with and usually are able to produce quality works in. It’s the allure of people around us who simply refuse to acknowledge that there are rules that simply aren’t negotiable. These characters are almost always interesting, and the same way the horror genre is a quick way to make a buck and garner interest – the gangster film has that same kind of built in audience. Most of the time the films that are ultimately based around these immoral characters, take a legitimate and accurate stance against or in opposition of these acts. Well Gomorrah, which is based on a series of truthful observations, is an entirely different beast from the get go. This isn’t anything romantic. There are no amazing steadicam shots through the backdoors of restaurants where gangsters tip everyone from the waiter to the busboy with a hundred dollar bill at every short. This is a reality where human life means very little and the glamor of urban dwelling is removed but replaced with an military atmosphere where gunmen sit atop buildings keeping their eyes on the legions who congregate in their ghetto landscape. Gomorrah isn’t what you would expect from a ‘mafia’ movie. Ultimately, it’s a film less concerned with those who live their lives at the top of the food chain but simply the people on the streets who have to live alongside all of the ruthless thugs who make their lives a living hell.

Based off of a true story written by Roberto Saviano, a young man who worked amongst the camorra for some time before writing his tell-all book about this criminal organization. I first heard about the movie from the cool guys over at The Mondo Movie Podcast who both gave it their glowing recommendations. They also gave me a lot of the backstory behind the film – which really does help in appreciating the story. Apparently the book was written very much as an undercover expose of the crime organization The Camorra. So, the film doesn’t play out in a traditional narrative form. There is no single character that stands up and explains to you what all is going on. The word “Camorra” isn’t even mentioned once in the film as far as I can remember. So, when you watch the film and all of these characters are working about in these textile mills and such, nothing is ever broadly explained to the audience. There’s one character in the film who’s job it is to walk around in various project style living quarters and hand out money to people for a reason that’s never explained to the audience, but apparently the reason he does this is to pay families of criminals who are currently held in prison or are in some other way unable to provide for their family. So, the Camorra looks after that gangster’s family by hashing out a certain amount of money each month. Like a criminal social security.

Normally something like that would upset me because my belief is that no film should require excess reading in order to appreciate it. The entire reason for a film is to paint a larger picture than what the simple word can do, to create a broader form of storytelling – and when a film can’t stand on its own generally that bothers me to a degree. However, Gomorrah is just too fantastic a piece of filmmaking for me not to get behind it. Sure, knowing these few things that I’ve explained in this review will make your viewing experience one hundred times more enjoyable but walking in blind beforehand – there’s enough outright drama and emotion to be felt in Gomorrah that you don’t absolute have to have these things. From the main stories, the one dealing with young boys who want to be Tony Montana but don’t realize that the lines between reality and fiction are bold and brutal would probably be the most interesting. While you’re watching the film, you can’t help but think that these are simply children getting mixed up in an absolutely awful and sordid world. It’s a heart wrenching epic that delivers in all forms.

When you think of “mob movies”, you probably get pictures in your mind of Goodfellas or Casino, which you should. The romanticism of what we see here in the states and the reality of what is going on back in the mob’s home country are completely different things. As the film points out in the final minutes, the Camorra have incredibly deep pockets and for the few that lead it (the leaders of this organization are never pointed out and we get nowhere near the top brass of this entity during the film, it deals exclusively with the average Joes) it has brought untold wealth. The people on the streets however must deal with this criminal organization in every facet of their life, from where they work and what they can and cannot do, it has to simply be an overbearing way to live. A must see for fans of crime cinema and for those simply curious about the synopsis. It really is like a crime empire that has taken a segment of their originating country, and turned it into a fascist dictatorship. I give the film a four out of five, mainly due to the fact that it probably could have been adapted from the page in a more linear fashion without having to know so much foreknowledge. I think you’ll enjoy the film regardless, Gomorrah must be experienced!