Gomorra (2008) dir. Matteo Garrone
Starring: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Gianfelice Imparato, Vincenzo Altamura
“Gomorra” arrives in Toronto after a Grand Jury victory at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s billed as a realist view into the modern Italian mafia – not the “Sopranos”, not “Goodfellas”, or “The Godfather” - an Italian story made by Italians. But I think I’m suffering European social realist fatigue. Though it feels like an important movie, the emotional detachment from its characters left me underwhelmed and had me longing for more artificiality and dramatic manipulation.
In the tradition of "Traffic" or "Syriana" “Gomorra” interweaves a number of separate stories and different points of view into the world of this new type of mafia. There’s an elderly money runner who spends his days walking through the neighbourhood either collecting money or giving it out; A waste disposal broker and his protégé who buy a quarry and rent out the space to illegal toxic waste dumpers; A young teenage grocery clerk who takes the initiation to becoming a full-fledged gang member; A sullen tailor who betrays his mob dons by selling out to a group of Chinese sweatshop rivals. And the journey of a couple of young and raucous “Scarface” wanabees run who wild on the streets with reckless abandon.
Tailors? Corporate waste disposal? Elderly money runners? These subplots are intended to be the antidote to the salacious aggrandizement of the mob in Hollywood. It results in a narrative that purposely eschews drama and emotion and unfortunately interest.
The current social realist trend in European films is taking its toll on me. By using handheld cameras without traditional coverage, or editing, Garrone attempts to tell his “story” like the documentary-like approach of the Dardennes Bros, or last year’s Cannes winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Unfortunately in ‘keeping it real’ he strips away all emotion and personality and distances himself from his characters. In fact, most of his actors are just moving bodies performing actions and dialogue that never really deepen, enlighten or connect us to the new world of Italian crime.
There’s a series of title cards at the end of the film which tell us some information about the state of the real Gamorra in Italy kind of like a call to action – like in Howard Hawks' original 1932 “Scarface”. I was shocked Garrone ended with this information. Because it just reinforces how vacant his film is, and how little we have learned about this subject.
The only subplots that maintained momentum were the stories of youth. The journey of Marco and Cirro stands out - a couple of bumbling idiots who are ballsy enough to steal cocaine right out of the hands of a group of dangerous African gangsters. They get away with it, which fuels their confidence that they can get away with everything. They command the majority of the standout scenes, including an eye-opening target practice scene (from the still above).
But despite a few standalone scenes, at the end of the film, we are left with the question – so what? To see some characters get killed on screen? Certainly not to get emotional involved with them or even deepen the complexities of Italian crime. Some will be attracted to the freshness of Garrone's approach to the familiar genre, but most will find it too vacant to really become the masterpiece it strives to be.