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Modern Naples:
A Documentary History, 1799-1999
by John Santore
(Paperback from Amazon)
. "Gomorrah"

The certainty and logic of the code

In convincing docudrama style, filmmaker Matteo Garrone puts together the work of multiple writers to draw a multi-dimensional portrait of life under the lawless eyes of one of Italy's most entrenched and insidious crime syndicates, the dreaded Cammora. Based on the book by Roberto Saviano, the film so well captures the cancerous power of the organization that more than one participant is under police protection as a result.

Selectively, Garrone cuts between five stories and central characters as though to say, "this is what's going on." With a camera style that often seems spontaneous enough to suggest lack of control, viewers must remind themselves that they're not watching a documentary. Some scenes, for example, are played out between the actors with the camera roving--not cutting--from face to face. One suspects that these are the scenes in which Garrone operated the camera. His pans are languid but timed well, and the people come off as natural as the pealing paint and corroded walls of the Vele di Sampi housing complex and in other settings around Naples and Caserta.

In fact, the naturalism that you're witnessing is so effective and deceptive that you begin to accept that there's some standard of humanity even where crime is the coin of the realm. But, then, a killing, when it occurs, is done with such workmanlike dispassion, it makes you realize you've been lulled into thinking your value of life applies. You're jarred into realizing what it means to be living where life and death decisions are made according to its own logic and certainty and prevailing motivational forces are greed, competition and power. Assassinations are ordered up with about as much consideration as toppings on the boss's pizza.

One of the more curious functionaries of the "System," the Camorra, is the bagman. Don Ciro is as well dressed as he is mannered and respectable-looking while taking us on his travels around town to the families of his clan members who have been imprisoned and can no longer provide for them. His is the job of regular disbursement that proves the organization takes care of its own.

But there are also independent types. Marco (Marco Macor) and Piselli (Ciro Petrone) are so full of themselves, imagining they're like their idol, Scarface. When they brazenly steal drugs from the mob dealer, they aren't gunned down. Instead, in recognition of their stupid courage, they're brought before the territorial boss who offers them an entry-level job that any emerging hoodlum would grab as a "break" into the organization. But, not so these two. They don't like to work "under" someone and fancy the notion that they can take down the boss himself if and when they might like to. One day they come upon two mob hoods hiding a cache of weapons out in the boonies and steal them, the feel of weapon grade steel and bullet power enhancing their self-styled toughness and invulnerablility. They pick several guns to test fire across a bay in their underwear--the familiar poster image--rejoicing when Piselli blasts a boat on the far shore to pieces. But, as they're getting off on their delusions, are they getting away with their exploits? Who is to kill whom is a matter of doubt.

Thirteen year old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) is the most Hollywood-like casting but, then, young Italian boys are all cute, no? He's a quick observer of what's going on, ingratiating himself with the mob as a way of preparing his future. He has no way of knowing what he will have to destroy within himself to achieve his dream.

Not unlike the mafia operations we've become familiar with ("The Godfather" series, "The Sopranos," etc., etc.) this one includes drugs, prostitution and a corner in local garbage dumping. This part of the operation is run by an aged don in the hierarchy who commands from his sickbed. He sees that his take is static and, agreeing with his wife and second in command, agrees to open up additional waste sites with no regard for how it will compromise the local environment and the health of the community.

What's a story about Italy without referring to its exquisite fashion design? The local house of haute couture is led by the talented Pasquale (Salvatore
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
(painting by John Martin)
Cantalupo) who agrees to give lessons to a Chinese house of apparel for a thousand Euros per visit--not a thing well countenanced by the mob, which has its greedy fingers in this pie as well. Pasquale is a rather sympathetic figure in the grand scheme of the episodic tapestry.

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It takes 135 minutes for Garrone to wrap up his composite, which holds fascination for the way apparent normality masks a swamp of sociopathic cruelty and danger. It ends with an act that is inevitable and organic to the morality that pervades the drama. A sense of black justice mixes with sadness for consequences we can only view from a safe distance. It's societal corruption leaves a bitter taste, which the film's maker duly suggests is comparable to the biblical Gomorrah, a former stinkhole of depravity and corruption. Well, god took care of that one. No one earthbound dares to take this one on.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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On these streets, death is wholesale.

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