Cannes Flashback: Gomorrah

At the moment, eyes of the film world are focused squarely on one place: Cannes. Every year, auteurs from around the world premiere their works in front of the most viscous and outspoken critics in the world, for the opportunity for their films to be recognized on an international level. Already midway through the proceedings, the festival is in full swing, so I thought it would be timely to screen some of the previous winners, both films I love, and those I am discovering for the first time. Today, I begin with Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah from 2008, winner of the Grand Prix, the festival’s second place prize.

Although the gangster picture has always been a staple of American cinema almost as long as cinema itself has existed, international realizations of the beloved genre have also made their marks on audiences worldwide. One of the most memorable gangster films of late is Gomorrah, an unrelentingly verite look into the world of mobster life in the heartlands of contemporary Italy. The film examines five storylines of different people who get caught up with the Camorra, the ominous organization headlining the film. The people range from older crime bosses to young boys, from rebellious teens, to outside investors in league with their two-faced associates. Indeed, the Camorra’s arm reaches far and wide.  As the voiceover from the film’s trailer proclaims, “No one is safe. No one is spared.” In fact, the author of the original book upon which the film is based has been under police protection from ever since publication in 2006.

What makes Gomorrah stand out from almost every gangster film that has preceded it is how simply and matter-of-factly it presents its stories. Despite valiant and effective efforts to portray mafia life accurately, a theatricality to the American gangster film remains. Oftentimes, the stories and characters are larger than life, and the actors onscreen are all too familiar. Perhaps Gomorrah also has some narrative flourishes, but it has no such stylistic pretensions that distinguish its American counterparts. It might be a bit of a stretch, but Gomorrah certainly owes much of its verite approach to its Italian forbearers from the 1940s and 1950s. Handheld photography has become a nearly universal method of presenting realism in cinema, almost to the point of cliché. Though this popular technique is rampant in Gomorrah, it is not the sole contributor to the stark realism of the film. Tremendous credit goes to the fleshed out performances, for Gomorrah also succeeds as an ensemble picture, where every character, major and minor, feels like a real person. As is typical of the genre, Gomorrah does not shy away from the harsh aspects of gangster life. A particularly searing scene in the film involves the induction of new inductees into the Camorra. One by one, the new inductees have a pillow strapped to their chests and then are shot from only a few feet away. The bullet remains lodged in their chests for the rest of their lives. One such inductee is a boy no older than fourteen. In fact, there is very little glamour in this life. Much of Gomorrah is purely a fascinating exploration of how deeply entrenched the organization is in every level of society. From construction projects to manufacturing, the Camorra has its hands in everything. Of course, the film also showcases the consequences of what happens to those who oppose the Camorra, to surprisingly devastating effect. Documentary style may be an overused description, but few contemporary narrative films implement the aesthetic as effectively as this. Though Gomorrah is far from being the best gangster film ever, it certainly deserves to rank highly for its unrelenting realism.

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~ by romancinema on May 16, 2011.

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