Matteo Garrone’s account of the activities of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, is a brave piece of filmmaking for a number of reasons. The source material for Gomorrah is a controversial and explosive exposé by writer Roberto Saviano of the confederation of criminal clans and cartels that make up the Camorra, examining its origins, history and its bloody rise to power to become a powerful and influential force not just in Campania region around Naples or Italy but throughout the world. More than that, by naming names and showing the activities of its leaders in a less than glamorous light, the publication of the book would force Saviano into hiding for fear of reprisals. For Matteo Garrone, the risk in adapting Gomorrah is perhaps less from any threat to his life than in the challenge of bringing this material to the screen, but even that is no small matter.
What is impressive then about Gomorrah is that it is an Italian film that not only dares to confront real issues that affect all aspects of Italian society, but it deals with those real issues realistically. There’s a good reason for this in the case of Gomorrah. In his book, Saviano recounts the influence of Hollywood movies on the young men of the Camorra, who style themselves after Michael Corleone in The Godfather and Tony Montana in Scarface, quoting lines from the films that they know by heart, adapting the pose and attitude, with one Camorra leader even going as far as to have a house built to the exact specifications of Tony Montana’s mansion in Brian de Palma’s film. It would be ironic if a film adaptation of Gomorrah glamorised the source material, making the lifestyle of the Camorra seem aspirational and having youngsters quote cool lines and phrases from it.
In his choice of five stories from the vast amount of material related in Roberto Saviano’s book, Garrone ensures that Gomorrah most certainly does not fall into that trap, showing diverse aspects of the Camorra activities in the surrounding slum districts of Naples in anything but a glamorous light. The employment of very young children in the gangs, their induction carried out through a ritual involving wearing a bullet-proof vest and being shot at by a high-powered pistol, is covered in the story of Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese). Attracted by the allure of the lifestyle, Totò’s story shows how children can be exploited for their low-profile to work as carriers and scouts and how it can be turned to other destructive uses within the community. This ties in with the story of Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), an elderly money runner who travels door to door to pay the weekly stipend to retired or infirm former clan members and to the families of those who have been killed or imprisoned in the execution of their duty. The sense of organisational and hierarchical structure that organises such matters is covered here, as well as the underlying tensions that would mark the breakaway Secessionists from the Di Lauro cartel and result in the Secondigliano war, but the manner in which any stepping out of line is also dealt with in the story of Marco and Ciro (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone), two wild youngsters who have watched too many American gangster movies and think that respect and power is automatically due to them because of the neighbourhood they have grown up in. The behaviour and the fates of these characters are unlikely to serve as role models for anyone.
Far more ambitiously, the film also attempts through the other two stories - the stories of Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) and Franco and Roberto (Toni Servillo and Carmine Paternoster) - to cover a wider sense of Camorra activities which has its fingers in almost every aspect of world commerce, not just in the traditional criminal activities of gun-running and drug-dealing, but in everything from the fashion industry to electronic goods and monopolisation of the waste disposal industry. Through Pasquale, a designer and expert clothes-maker in charge of a factory sub-contracted to produce goods for the big Italian fashion houses, we get a sense of the questionable business ethics that give these small Camorra-funded sweatshops the freedom to pass off high quality copies with the tacit agreement of the big designer names in Italian fashion. It also indicates where the future lies and the conflicts that will inevitably arise with the growth and expansion of cheap Chinese immigrant labour into the industry.
Working for Franco, a stakeholder operating a business to dispose of dangerous chemicals and waste from rich north Italian industries by undercutting costs and flouting safe disposal laws by burying it under fields and in quarries in the poor south of Italy, Roberto gets a sense of the ambiguous morality that defines the attitudes that the Camorra live by. Franco sees himself as nothing more than a businessman exploiting an opportunity, one that, by allowing companies to dispose of their waste cheaply, cuts overheads and allows them to prosper in difficult times. He is also putting money into the pockets of poor Italian farmers struggling to make ends meet on land where produce is increasingly becoming worthless and where there are no young people to work it. Never mind the long term consequences of disposing dangerous poisonous waste in the ground, as far as he is concerned, it’s a situation where everyone wins. It’s at such moments that the Gomorrah successfully reaches out and shows us something that we can all relate to, saying something about the nature of the world we live in today, about capitalism of the most ruthless sort taken to its ultimate extreme, with no social conscience and no long-term outlook. Such is the attitude that defines the mindset of the Camorra and determines their actions – they are businessmen, seizing opportunities.
Such revelations are, it has to be said, hard to come by elsewhere in the film version of Gomorrah, which by necessity when it is brought to the screen, cuts back the material, compresses time and events, lacks context and finds shortcuts to character development that in the process loses much of the terrifying revelations and scope of Saviano’s book. The events of the Secondigliano war power struggles are only hinted at in the background of the stories here, but probably lost entirely on anyone who is either not Italian or has not read the original book, as are – perhaps thankfully – some of the more horrific descriptions of execution, torture and brutality enacted between feuding clans against informers and against even innocent people only remotely connected or related to them. In its place, Garrone’s version of Gomorrah, removed from context and without informed commentary, succeeds in making the activities of the Camorra seem random and senseless, which is an admirable and a brave thing to do since it makes the film less cinematic and portrays the criminal lifestyle as anything but glamorous, but it does an injustice to the reality of how highly organised and influential the clans are, how widespread their activity and why we all should really be concerned about it.
Gomorrah is released on Blu-ray in the UK by Optimum. The film is presented on BD50 disc with a 1080p encode. The extra features are in Standard Definition PAL (576/50i).
The transfer has all the extra sharpness and detail you would expect from a High Definition transfer, but there are a few minor problems here and there. Some aliasing can be seen in the expected places – wire, fences – but only in one or two scenes. The image isn’t always perfectly stable, showing some occasional faint wavering or compression issues particularly with the natural grain. Contrast is very strong and looks slightly boosted, as does the colouration, reds in particular looking overly warm, tending to smear a little and lose definition. This is particularly noticeable on skin tones in interiors, which make characters look like they have serious sun exposure problems. Maybe they do. All of this is just an impression and may well be the intended look for the film. In general however, the image is sharp and clear and relatively stable with few problems that will trouble the average viewer.
There is only one audio track option which is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. There is very little use made of the rear speakers and, even when it is used, it’s rather subdued, the focus of the sound clearly being pushed to the front. There it is strong, deep and powerful, gunshots packing a punch and the pumping music of a car stereo and strip club showing the full range that is there.
English subtitles are provided and are optional. They are fine, clearly readable in an appropriately sized white font. English subtitles on the extra features are fixed.
Without interviews or narration, the hour-long making of featurette Gomorrah – Five Stories (1:00:02) nevertheless is an interesting behind-the-scenes on-location look at the filming of each of the sections of the film, showing how dialogue was improvised for realism and also showing some local colour and characters among the non-professional cast used. The feature is 4:3 letterboxed widescreen.
Seven Deleted Scenes (13:27) are included, and although Standard Definition look well in 2.35:1 widescreen with PCM 2.0 sound. There are extra scenes from each of the stories, although the Don Ciro excerpt is only a minor trim. There is however an interesting scene and a nice crane shot from the Franco and Roberto section which shows another aspect of business methods in the building of apartments on waste ground.
If the film itself fails to really establish the history, context and motivations of the Camorra, the Interview with Roberto Saviano (41:19) certainly helps to fill in the gaps, and is almost essential really. He goes into detail on the origins of the Secondigliano War, the drugs problem, he explains the attitude and thinking behind the behaviours seen in the film, and explains how the System works, providing further background detail on the characters and situations seen in the film.
There are also Interviews with the Cast (10:07), specifically Toni Servillo, Salvatore Cantalupo and Gianfelice Imparato, talking about their characters and working with Matteo Garrone on achieving a sense of realism in the situations.
The film’s Trailer (2:02) is also included in widescreen. It’s quite powerful, but heavily spoilered, revealing almost every shock moment in the film.
Although Matteo Garrone skilfully and necessarily manages to avoid all the traps and mannerisms of the mafia crime film, Gomorrah is only partially successful in its adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s investigation of the Camorra’s activities and behaviour. It certainly shows realistically, without glamour or mannerism, how ruthless the organisation can be, how wasteful and destructive of lives and how ultimately detrimental it is to the community, but it fails to indicate how organised and powerful it is within the Naples region, how it has infiltrated all sectors of local government and business and how it represents a business model that needs to be taken seriously on a global scale. The BD and 2-disc DVD from Optimum however provide plenty of context in this regard in the extra features, particularly in the excellent interview with Roberto Saviano, and with a strong transfer, this makes for an all-round strong and impressive package.