I had the pleasure of seeing this stunning film by Italian director Matteo Garrone last year at Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign, which technically is no longer (The same building is now simply The Art Theatre). At the end of Gomorra -- a pun on the biblical damned city and the real-life Italian organized crime group known as the Camorra -- I felt like I was just beginning to understand the film. The parts were still rattling around in my head on the drive home . . .
From our perspective, the movie has no real hero, which by itself makes Gomorra difficult to follow. American viewing audiences are used to understanding a story through the eyes of its heroes -- or even anti-heroes -- yet Gomorra is too gritty and realistic to offer either. Then you factor in the multiple, disconnected storylines that rarely, if ever, meet up:
As you can imagine, with all those intercut narratives sewn together in two hours and some change, it's going to take some time to adjust. Gomorra is one you need to watch a second time to fully absorb.
On the other hand, it's one of those grimy movies you appreciate but don't exactly want to view twice in one day. Intentionally so, I would assume, as it discards all the mafia glamor found in The Godfather series and the Hollywood gangster films that followed. Don't get me wrong: I love Martin Scorsese mafia movies. But Garrone's film seems so raw, so jagged, such a refutation of the polished look and nostalgic charm of, say, Goodfellas, that I find it very surprising that it could be a "Martin Scorsese Presents" movie. There's no awesome scene where you cheer on Joe Pesci as he stabs an old coot with a big mouth in a bar. There are plenty of killings, but they don't feel romanticized. What you do feel is the powerlessness of these people born into dire circumstances, living like wild dogs.
Naturally, it's not as overwhelming in home viewing as it was in theater, what without a massive screen or state of the art sound system. Fortunately, Criterion did its best to make up for the changed experience with a ton of extra goodies. There are six deleted scenes, none of them bad; interviews with the actors, director, and source material author/journalist Roberto Saviano -- who has received death threats due to the success of his revealing book; and a one-hour making of documentary.
These special features are particularly interesting because we learn that filming Gomorra was, in a way, a community effort. Garrone was able to work with actual Camorristas to capture the little details that bring films to life. Actors' "dressing rooms" were often occupied apartments, and locals would often argue with each other about whether or not the filming was accurate. Garrone also has a neat directorial style: he carries his own camera and becomes like another actor in pre-filming rehearsals. Though he has a strong vision of how each scene should look, the actors reveal that the script is often thrown out the window in favor of guided improvisation. Most of the actors are actual actors, not the "real thing," which Garrone explains is because "real people" tend to act unreal on camera. Saviano also provides a great interview, in which he concludes on the fascinating point that gangster cinema affects the way that real gangsters perceive themselves. The best way for black market guns to raise in demand is for them to be used in a popular gangster movie.
By the way -- seriously, how does a movie join the Criterion Collection seven months after reaching limited release in the U.S.? What a testament to this chilling work of cinematic art.
On a side note: Big ups to the Edwardsville Public Library for having this DVD. According to Amazon, it just came out on November 24. That's a pretty fast moving new foreign film pick-up, for a Metro-East library. For Alton people, checking this out is as simple as ordering it at Hayner or swinging by the Edwardsville Library (corner of Vandalia & Kansas Streets in downtown E-ville) next time you're on the way home from Showplace 12, or wherever. Your Hayner card works there.