Gomorrah – Mateo Garrone (2008 Italy) Salvatore Cantalupo, Carmine Paternoster, Alfonso Santagale
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 21 Oct 08 ticket: £6.80
Location Location Location Location Location
Gomorrah has been flagged as a realist portrayal of the situation in Naples where whole areas of life are under the control of the local Mafia the Camorra.
The film is structured in what seems to be the favoured fashionable form of the moment as: five intercut stories. Five stories that involve different characters unrelated to each other except that generically the characters are all either part of the criminal network or member of communities in which the networks operate. The characterising feature of the stories is that they are not interrelated or interlaced rather strips of action that serve only as exemplars of types of criminal activities: trash disposal, drug dealing, garment industry etc that define the relationship between gangs and populace. As such the film is a simple transposition of some selected elements of Roberto Saviano’s book that adds nothing filmicly or challenging to his propositions. Indeed this film of book, like most such adaptations detracts and cheapens the substance of its original form.
In effect the film is an impoverishment of the books thesis ( the toxic effect of gangster control of areas of society) because lacking the book’s facility to support its point of view and journalistic incrimination of the Camorra, by piling up detail and statistics of the effects of a criminalised culture, the film is reduced to a banality of affective detail in which the links between action and effect are mechanically transposed onto the screen only through the medium of expressed violence. In Garrone’s Gomorrah there are no cognitive or ideational linkages through sound or picture allowing the audience to make connections that characterise a sick culture. The links in Gomorrah are all through the glamour of the gun; not through the effects of what happens after the gun. The realist settings are just a type of architectural backdrop to what is just another gangsta movie.
When I say that the linkages in Gomorrah are mechanical I mean for example that the connections that the film suggests to its audience mostly film stem from either violent action or architecture. We are given simplistic film generated cause effect relationships that gloss over the latent forces at work.
Linkage in relation to action. Gomorrah shows us men with guns. They shoot other men whom they see as opponents or in their way. The men with guns deal in death and fear, they get their way and assert control over whatever: drugs trash garment industry. The film is a simple fable of the ganagsta means: the ends of the gangsta in Gororrah are actually unclear. By repute I understand that the Camorra liked the movie. Of course they did. The gangsta loves the exercise and demonstration of his original power which stems from force and violence, and he approves of its filmic celebration.. What Garonne has achieved is a celebration of the gangsta through banal mechanical linkages. What Garonne has not filmed, and what was object of Saviano’s book are the consequences of the gangsta take over of social mechanisms, and the freezing (through fear) of social response to these consequences. The ends rather than the means. What we don’t see in Gomorrah are the piled up mountains of trash and filth that are caused by this situation; what we don’t see are the effects in disease caused by dumping of toxins in landfill. The corruption. Garrone sticks to the banality of the action, which we all know from long series of gangsta films. What the gangster’s fear, and what has caused them to run Savione out of Italy is the exposition and detailing of the real price people pay when the gangsta moves to take over vital areas of economic and social activity. The bang bang your dead bit is the least of the interesting connections to be made. The other mechanical connection made in Gomorrah is ‘architecture’. I think that the film fails because it substitutes, or perhaps confuses a concern with architecture for a concern with ‘world’. At one level this looks like copping out. It is much easier to send out a location scout and find fruity sexy backdrops for the action than to undertake the filmic chore of creating a sense of ‘world’. The function of architecture is fundamental to the working of Gomorrah. The exteriors and the interiors work as metanyms. In particular the main setting of the concrete housing project where the turf wars rage. The concrete structure of the housing project is used as an encompasser, a building that literally doesn’t just contain the life within it but also defines and orders it. In this sense the building is a metanym: its function in the film is to stand for something rather more than what it is. Gorarrah is using this structure to say that the compression and squalor that it represents mould and contaminate the people whom it accommodates. The problem is that I think that Garonne was content to leave the housing project as a symbol. We never get closer to the people who live there than this statement of architectural determinism. The people, except those busy killing each other, are sort of phantom entities who fill out the crowd scenes the way dust fills in cracks. The huge housing project is ultimately an empty shell, just another setting, a theatrical backdrop against which action can take place. Even in a film like Meirelles’ City of God which has a gangsta action/ revenge core, there is more of a feeling for the texture of Rio favella life. In Gomorrah there is an absence of anything other than fat men wearing T shirts of gruesome taste. It’s not enough. Likewise with most of the other locations: the quarry, the marshes, the subterranean car parks. The filmic objective seems to be to overwhelm rather than inform. The five strip intercut structure of Gomorrah seems to lead nowhere. The structure is a favoured shape for contemporary directors and such a structure it should give to the film some dynamic. A dynamic that might reveal itself in many ways: some emotive such as interdynamic bathos or pathos; some cognitive such as exemplative or understanding complementing or contrasting or both. There might be connections such as colour, geometry or auditory. The problem with Gomorrah was that the five action strips were all of a muchness. They had few characterising idiosyncrasies or distinctive features other than the architecture. The individuals populating the stories were often difficult to distinguish and the only character whose name I could remember was the tailor, Pasqualle. The only purpose served by the intercut sequences is to provide a series of dramatic cutting points. Even this has diminishing returns as the film progresses through its two hour plus duration. adrin neatrour email@example.com