Cinema and Drama

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What are some critical elements of the film Gomorrah directed by Matteo Garrone?

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Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s nonfiction journalistic account of organized crime in the Italian region of Naples is a fictionalized tale interweaving the stories of five characters whose lives intersect with organized crime.  Gomorrah, of course, is an adaptation of the regional criminal organization, the Camorra, which coincidentally, and fortuitously for Saviano, rhymes with name of the Biblical city identified with unrepentant sin: hence, the title Gomorrah.  In books, of course, length is rarely a problem for authors who are generally free to take as much space as necessary to tell their stories.  In film, complex issues or stories must be concentrated into anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes.  Consequently, composite characters and manipulated storylines are common features of screenplays adapted from books, both fiction and nonfiction. 

Gomorrah’s focus is on the social, economic and physical devastation that results from organized crime’s entrenched historical role in Italy, especially in regions like Sicily, Naples, and Calabria, and on the effects of those activities on the lives of individual Italians.  One of the film’s singular achievements is its capture of the “feel” of the places and activities it depicts, helped in no small part from its locational photography in Scampia and Torre del Greco.  This on-the-scene footage, filmed in black and white to provide a more nuanced and realistic, almost documentary style, Gomorrah’s characters all pay a heavy price for their involvement in criminal activities that fall within the realm of the Camorra organized crime network.  Those involvements invariably lead to disillusionment (on the part of Roberto, the truck driver whose job involves the illegal dumping of toxic waste); and Pasquel, whose job in the local garment factory, owned by the Camorra, supplies up-market dresses for wealthy foreigners); or death, as in the case of Marco and Ciro, the two teenagers whose ambitions of becoming big-time gangsters ends in their violent murder. 

Anytime a director chooses to tell his or her story through multiple storylines there is a risk that the end-result will be unsuccessful.  Some, like Quentin Tarantino, are masters of interweaving multiple storylines.  In the case of Gomorrah, Garrone’s film doesn’t so much interweave the individual stories as simply cut between parallel themes.  The end result, however, works admirably.  Despite fictionalizing Saviano’s book, Garrone succeeded in presenting a very realistic portrait of life in the shadow of an all-consuming organized criminal presence.

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