Gomorrah, Dir. Matteo Garrone (2008)

This is really hard-hitting stuff, an antidote to the Hollywood glamourisation of the Mafia with their charm, sharp shiny suits, expensive jewelery and cars, cigars, posse of women and family loyalty. Time and time again we see this portrayal in the media. Which is why in this film, based upon the true story of the Gomorrah in Naples, it needs to make the violent impact it does to show the true reality of life in the mafia. 

So in contrast to family loyalty and clear hierarchies we have chaos, a dog-eat-dog world (as if to emphasise this three characters are named after dogs Boxer, Pitbull and Toto) where alliances change at the drop of a hat, where people turn on each-other and where greed and paranoia are the motivating forces.

The film sets a realistic tone from the outset as the camera explores the decrepid and ugly estate in which the gomorrah live. A rusting, rubbish-heaped concrete jungle which makes clear the poor conditions which motivate their quest for power and money.

The mafia boss we meet, Boxer (Salvatore Ruocco),  is boorish and heartless completely lacking in any charm or sympathy unlike say Don Corleone. We see him dressed only in a towel and flip-flops, his unattractiveness cemented in his pot-belly on display. A fact that prompts two of the younger gommori, Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), to comment that if a fat  ugly ‘pig’ like that can hold such power why can’t they?

The reason they can’t is that they are clearly rather  moronic and we see them in a key scene, shooting gratuitously into woods and rivers on a childish power trip, after recklessly stealing some of the gomorrah’s guns. And when they have their fun, soliciting lap-dancers, this fun is cut short with extreme violence. But even as they play at being powerful this power is undermined, they bicker with each-other like schoolchildren, can’t have sex with the lap-dancers, and can only act the role of Tony Montana quoting lines from  Scarface to pump themselves up. A symbolic gesture that shows how much the mafia owe to media representations of themselves to justify their lifestyle.

Needless to say they die (the Scarface references also pointing to the inevitability of this).   Their parting image as they are hauled away by a truck represents the premature waste of life that becoming part of the gomorrah can entail. They are cogs in a savage machine and if they don’t tow the line they are disposable, easily replaced by the next naive recruit.

There is hardly sympathetic character in this film either apart from the youngest boy Toto (Salvatore Abbruzzese) who even then commits the horrific act of allowing a female friend who trusted him, to be shot point-blank in the back if the head. But if he hadn’t done this he would’ve died too. Women and children aren’t spared, this is the brutal reality that Hollywood wouldn’t show (even in the bloody and controversial Scarface, Tony Montana makes a point of not killing women and children to the point where it actually results in his death).

This is masculinity at it’s most extreme and deadly. The film is deliberately and effectively unsettling lulling you into false senses of security till there is a sudden eruption of graphic violence (such as the shocking opening or when Marco and Ciro are in the brothel) and alternately building up tension only to deflate it (such as when Toto seemingly gets shot). Thus the film creates a sense of paranoia not only in the film’s world,most effectively symbolised in one of the characters taking to wearing a bullet-proof vest, but in the audience too.

Overall a brutal but vital film, just don’t expect any laughs.

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