Film Comment Reports: Matteo Garrone,”Gomorrah” and the Darkness of the City

Gomorra might be mistaken for a network narrative in the style of Traffic, Crash or Babel, given its implications as a synedcoche for a global social problem. But whereas Soderbergh, Haggis and Izarritu build their structures horizontally, Matteo Garrone’s depiction of the Neapolitan Camorra crime network is constructed vertically, with the film’s five primary narratives burrowed deep within various levels of the Camorra hierarchy.

Totb (Salvatore Abruzzese) is a young boy who finds work as a mule for some mid-level thugs. Roberto (Carmine Paternoster), fresh out of college, goes to work for a waste management specialist who dumps toxic materials for the Camorra as a means of financial expediency. Ciro (Ciro Petrone) and Marco (Marco Macor) are Scarface wannabes who have a nasty habit of stealing cocaine and guns from the wrong people. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) is put-upon accountant assigned to make the rounds and deliver bribe money to members of the organization–which seems to be just about everyone. Pasquale (the artist within the diegesis) is a fashion designer forced to work for one of the Camorra’s front operations, and then begins to clandestinely design for the Camorra’s Chinese competitors. None of these narrative strands ever intersect, but their autonomy only seems to reinforce the deeply penetrative aspect of the Camorra within Neapolitan society in particular, and global commerce in general.

Garrone’s camera provides a rough-hewn look, underscoring the kinetic immediacy of his subjects’ lives. “I wanted to give back to the audience the emotional experience I had,” Garrone told me. “We went to the location after the script was written. I was very shocked by what I saw. The best way to give back those emotions would be to act like the film was a documentary. We wanted to be invisible . . . to disappear.” Indeed, Garrone’s camera serves to understate much of the narrative content of what we see.

An indicative shot is of Totb looking over the balcony of his apartment complex to see someone beaten to a pulp by a set of Camorra soldiers. The camera pans down from Totb to the beating, then back up. Totb doesn’t betray any overt emotions, but his fear and attraction to the Camorra (reminiscent of a similar shot early on in Goodfellas) is felt through Garrone’s simple, immediate mise-en-scene.

Another visual strategy is to suddenly move from rough, hand-held methods to very careful, almost stately extra-long shots that reduce the characters to mere specks smothered by their oppressive environments. “I wanted the frame to surprise the audience,” Garrone said. “It’s very instinctive . . . it tells, but surprises, emotionally.” The technique gives us pause to reflect on the broader scope underlying the characters’ actions, a scope of which they may not even be aware, since they are so caught up in the present.

Gomorra was based on the 2006 bestselling non-fiction exposé by Roberto Saviano–a book so controversial that due to constant death threats, Saviano has a permanent security detail in Italy. “I haven’t seen hope for people in that territory,” Garrone lamented. “There are good people . . . not conscious about the decisions they make. I have hope for the conscience of the people who live there. [But because] the Camorra is in place of the government, all is confused, bad and good.” The one glimmer of hope Garrone possibly sees for these rural areas outside Naples is in education. “They are beginning to solve the problem of education, [which can begin] change between the individual and institutions.” But, with a distinct air of heaviness in his voice, Garrone concluded, “we will see.”

This fatalism is palpable at the film’s conclusion. Totb helps bring about the murder of a close friend, Maria. Pasquale is almost killed and becomes a truck driver in order to take himself out of the game. Roberto angrily quits his job on principle, but is left at the side of the road, unsure of where to go. Marco and Ciro are murdered for their petulance. Nobody gets out alive, and everyone left standing has little future. But, as with Roberto staring out into the countryside, perhaps we will see.

-Evan Davis

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