Mafia Rules: Neapolitan Crime Syndicate Comes Up for Inspection

City Pulse | February 9, 2009
Mafia Rules

Neapolitan Crime Syndicate Comes Up for Inspection

Gomorrah (Five Stars) (648 words)

By Cole Smithey

Roberto Saviano’s tell-all mafia expose provides rich narrative soil for director Matteo Garrone (The Embalmer - 2002) to weave together five stories of mob-related corruption sucking dry the Italian industrial province of Naples and its squalid suburbs and infecting the entire financial landscape of the European economy. A master tailor--enslaved to his occupation since childhood--two would-be teen aged gangsters, a pair of illicit toxic-waste disposal contractors, and a 13-year-old mafia recruit living in a drug-infested housing project, make up the unforgettable characters in this devastating picture of social collapse. The clan's corrupt system, or "Camorra," that pulls the social strings of the region makes the Sicilian Cosa Nostra look like nice guys by comparison. You may never want to visit southern Italy after seeing this film.

It is said that if you throw a rock from a Naples hotel room, a gang war could ignite. Since writing Gomorrah Roberto Saviano has had to live under police protection in secret military barracks. The Camorra has placed a permanent death sentence on his head for exposing their multinational activities that include drug-dealing on a massive level, laundering money through diamonds, clothing stores, and tourism businesses all over Europe. It is estimated that the Camorra's annual profits exceed $233 billion. The agile crime syndicate's improper disposal of toxic waste in the Campania region has resulted in a spike of cancer-related illnesses in the area.

The personalized, neo-realistic effect that director Matteo Garrone achieves in collapsing the extent of the Camorra's far-reaching crimes into a fictional narrative form derives from the collaborative effort of six screenwriters, of which he himself is one.

Two charismatic but woefully foolish boys, Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) hang out in a disused building acting out scenes from Brian De Palma's Scarface, and dreaming of creating their own two-man crime syndicate. The duo's discovery of a Camorra arms stash gives way to one of the film's most indelible sequences in which the boys indulge in some impromptu assault rifle target practice, dressed only in tennis shoes and underwear, along the squalid muddy shore of a river that runs through town. They will not be forgiven for their immaturity and ignorance of the crime world that they flirt with, and their story provides a crucial segment to the film's soup-to-nuts encapsulation of the way the Naples society is inducted through the Camorra's system of corruption from an early age.

The inner-workings of one way the mafia enslaves its workers comes across in the storyline of the haute couture tailor Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) whose Camorra-supported clothing business produces dresses that will be worn on red-carpet events in Cannes and at the Oscars by the likes of Angelina Jolie. Pasquale has worked under the Camorra from dawn to dusk since his youth, and yet he has little to show for his contributions. So it is that Pasquale decides to risk his life to sell his skills to a competing Asian manufacturer for which he makes cloaked nocturnal excursions to instruct its staff of seamstresses. Pasquale's mastery of his craft is persuasively exhibited in Salvatore Cantalupo's expressive performance in keeping with the solid work of the film's ensemble.

Gomorrah is a virtuosic example of modern neo-realistic filmmaking that briefly plays into expectations of the mafia crime genre before flipping the vernacular on its head through timing, framing, and performances. Matteo Garrone's all-encompassing vision allows the film to be read on manifold levels that reach beyond the psyche of a singular generation. It is a reluctantly compelling film that fulfills a cinematic gap in the way it approaches its subject and fulfills the author's passion for what amounts to a martyr's effort at rescuing his homeland and incidentally a much broader spectrum of political and economic influence.

Rated R. 137 mins. (IFC Films) (A+)

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