By Louis Bayman
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 329


This article is over 15 years, 6 months old
Director: Matteo Garrone; Release date: 10 October
Issue 329

Like any good drama, Gomorrah sums itself up in its opening scene. Some friendly chat, and several men, stripped to their trunks and none too pretty, prepare themselves for the tanning stands. Without warning, the setting turns to brutal violence as the men are shot in a coordinated gangland killing.

The perpetrators are the Camorra, the real life crime syndicate that forms Naples’ equivalent of the Mafia. As the camera lingers silently on the slaughtered bodies, bathed in the lurid light of the fluorescent tan stands, Gomorrah signals its focus as the wake left by the mob’s ugly brutality.

Although fictional, Gomorrah uncovers and indicts the extent of organised crime in Naples and nearby Caserta. It is one of the poorest areas of Europe and crime is certainly endemic in the region. I remember on one recent visit seeing a traveller in designer sunglasses sat by the open window of a regional train. Spotting a good opportunity, a passer-by reached in and took the luckless passenger’s glasses from his face as the train left the platform.

But the reach of the Camorra is altogether greater. Recent gang warfare can leave once crowded city squares deserted as bystander deaths increase. Probably bigger than its more famous cousin, the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra could be the largest employer of the region. Most famously, the illegal contracts it gathers for waste disposal turned Naples into an open dump, poisoning the food and (perhaps purposefully) aiding Berlusconi – whose associates have never shaken off accusations of mob involvement – to victory against the ailing centre-left government.

Gomorrah is based on the celebrated book of the same name by Roberto Saviano. Its several stories serve to show the variety of Camorra activity: from its teenage recruits, to the upstarts who challenge Camorra dominance, and its links with business, which find the cut-price offers of illegal waste disposal too good to turn down.

Stories of poor kids for whom crime is the only opportunity, or the seductive glamour of drugs and guns in the jostling rivalries between gangsters, may be familiar from recent gangster films like City of God or Italy’s own Romanzo Criminale. However, Gomorrah does not attempt the historical grandeur, or the generic thrills, that made either of those films so attractive to foreign audiences, fixing its sights relentlessly on details of the daily routine of the Camorra and the people it comes into contact with.

It takes its time to let the viewer know who is who and what is happening. The snatches from their everyday lives that the film shows add up to a general and slow build-up of tension, culminating in a choreographed and devastating reassertion of Camorra control through murderous violence.

The close-up of life that Gomorrah offers chooses never to pull back to make any political or other contextual comment. The book on which it is based uses its fictional story to give a full journalistic exposé, offering from its opening pages commentary on the geography, economic theory and history that underpin Camorra activity.

The film takes a deliberately different approach. While it clearly roots the Camorra in the bleak poverty and institutional neglect of southern Italy, explanations and opposition – both of which exist – are entirely avoided. Gomorrah instead acts as a realist document of daily experience; its condemnation arising from the ways it presents the Camorra as a grotesque outgrowth of the ugliness of the world that fosters it.

Gomorrah is a brave and challenging film that deliberately limits its own aims. What it does aim for, and achieves, is heartfelt, well told and urgent.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance