Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Synopsis: Warring factions of the Camorra fight it out on a grim Italian housing estate. The film follows various characters including a tailor, a young boy and two teenage would-be Scarfaces as they weave in and out of the Camorra's affections.

I saw this modern Italian gangster film after I'd seen the French prison film Un Prophete and they make interesting comparisons. It could be said that gangster films (especially in Hollywood) have previously enjoyed somewhat of a glamourisation. Thinking of such classics as The Godfather, Scarface (B&W and colour versions) and Goodfellas, audiences have been treated to such ultra stylised accounts of organised crime that they forget that there is a reality behind the gloss.

Un Prophete is not glamorous (think of an Oz and Hunger mash-up and you're just about there) but there is still a nod to the cool, trendy, gritty gangster flicks. The use of U.S. hip-hop in the soundtrack and the fact that we see at the end how crime does pay means that for all its attempts at keepin' it real, Un Prophete and Gomorra are really worlds apart.

Gomorra is neither stylised nor does it shy away from the horrible reality for those living with both poverty and violence on a daily basis. In this way, Gomorra is more akin to US TV series The Wire in its multi layered depiction of drug-related organised crime and its place in modern society. Where a film like The Godfather shows us the top level of an organised crime family (or one man's rise to the top of said organisation) and its relationship to corrupt politicians, both Gomorra and The Wire clearly illustrate the different levels involved, from the young boy running errands right up to the official illegally burying toxic waste.

Admittedly, the five series of The Wire has more time to set out such a complicated story and goes into minute detail, but Gomorra is successful in depicting such complexity in just over two hours. The Wire also has its share of humour and grotesque Dickensian characters. Gomorra has virtually no humour and no over the top characters.

The story, such as it is, moves along without a soundtrack of gangsta rap or '60s rock music. Instead we're treated to dreadful Italian pop, securing it firmly in its time and place. The photography is fairly colourless, with perhaps the grimmest housing estate since Nil by Mouth, but care is taken over framing and tracking, which gives the film a serious, confident feel.

Standout scenes for me include watching a succession of young teenage boys donning bullet proof vests to be shot at by Camorra henchmen as a test of manhood and loyalty. Utterly insane but, as with the rest of the film, totally underplayed. Young boys are utilised to grim comic effect later on when they are employed to drive trucks of toxic waste to a quarry after one of the original drivers is injured by having some of the waste spill on him. That the official happily gets a bunch of kids to drive his scum trucks rather than sort out a disfigured driver says all you need to know about his morality.

Another character we follow is the assistant to the toxic waste burying guy, who towards the end of the film we see having to dump a tray of ripe peaches by the side of the road. This, for him, is symbolic of the wasting or destruction of nature by what his boss is doing. He immediately walks off, preferring lower wages but a clearer conscience.

In another section we follow a tailor who, as well as working in a factory knocking off haute couture, gets tempted, sells his talents and teaches a rival Chinese factory lessons in couture cutting and sewing. We see him visit the Chinese boss and enjoy his first taste of Chinese cuisine and then as he gives his first lesson. This is the true face of globalisation.

One of the most poignant and, for me, Wire-esque scenes comes near the end, in which the tailor is now in a new job (long distance lorry driver) after being attacked as a traitor by the Camorra bosses. He watches a TV in a service station as Scarlett Johanssen is photographed wearing one of his knock off dresses. We now see the circle complete.

I reckon Gomorra should be compulsory viewing for anyone wanting to watch The Godfather, GoodFellas, Scarface, The Sopranos or any other typical gangster film/TV show. This film is not about cool personalities, hip dialogue or fast-paced action. It takes a cold, hard look at what it's like to be poor in a country where organised crime is still pervasive from the bottom to the very top.

See also: Un Prophete, The Wire

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