This Toxic Thing of Ours, by Tom Jennings
Gomorrah, directed by Matteo Garrone
Wrong-footing viewers with the surreal slaughter of sleazebags in a tanning parlour, Italian Mafia drama Gomorrah then immediately switches gear to quasi-documentary war-reportage from the mean streets of Naples satellite suburbs – more the tragic downbeat naturalism of The Wire’s forensic dissection of the drugs trade than middle- or high-ranking criminal (anti-)romances like The Godfather, The Sopranos, Scorcese or Scarface. That the latter inspires a couple of young sociopaths here to enact their gun-toting fantasies, with predictably suicidal results, reinforces the film’s ambition to reflect grass-roots reality while courting international acclaim (e.g. winning the Cannes Festival Grand Prix). Its five storylines intersect to depict the brutal grass-roots degradation and depradations caused by Camorrah clan control of daily life in the most deprived region of Western Europe – selected from a tapestry of thinly-fictionalised accounts in the best-selling novel by journalist Roberto Saviano, now under police guard for meticulously exposing what is known locally as ‘The System’.
From panoramas of the Scampia public housing project in the Caserta wasteland, twitchy paranoid camerawork stalks their decaying decks following the aforementioned outlaw-wannabes, a youngster graduating from shopping-delivery to footsoldier by setting up a customer whose son turncoated to a rival ‘family’, the neighbourhood ‘accountant’ paying remittances to imprisoned members’ kinfolk (the only available ‘welfare’), a talented tailor in a fake high-fashion sweatshop, and a personal assistant to a waste-disposal manager paying landowners to flytip international chemical effluent on their estates. The palpable all-round hopelessness yields the pervasive ruination of moral, social, physical and environmental health, with few hints of agency (the clothes-designer escaping to become a trucker; the PA walking away from the patron his parents were so proud to have wangled him a career with) sugarcoating the rotten-borough desperation – the rot so comprehensively infecting the entire biosphere and lifeworld that the individual heroic villanies of Italian and Hollywood cinemas alike seem utterly irrelevant.
This Toxic Thing of Ours
Vividly conveying the poisonous totality of organised crime in Southern Italy, Gomorrah nevertheless risks resigned detachment (‘Isn’t it awful!?) and invites correspondingly external solutions, tackling neither the phenomenon’s historical development in defensive community cohesion nor its complex intrinsic entanglement with mainstream institutional structures. This is ironic given the recent refuse-collection strike in Naples and the Berlusconi government ordering military intervention in its ‘war on crime’ pretence – whereas the national political parties have intimately colluded with shady business, so that ‘respectable society’ is virtually indistinguishable from the Mafia’s parallel dual-power structures (especially in Sicily, where Christian Democrat communalism dovetailed seamlessly with Cosa Nostra patronage; or the notorious interpenetration of right-wing cabals and corrupt commercial and Vatican banking). As if in recognition of its partiality, the film ends with statistics of the Camorrah’s financial scale (including massive investment in New York’s rebuilding at Ground Zero) – leaving audiences to infer the universal toxicity of government-by-capitalism and the futility of expecting its guardians to act against it.
for further essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see also www.variant.org.uk and http://libcom.org