There’s a scene in award winning Gomorrah ( the 2008 movie made from a book by Roberto Saviano) that reminded me of a scene from the mini-series about the middle ages, Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Both scenes take place in a quarry, and show underpaid workers with a big job to do. In Pillars of the Earth the goal is to build something beautiful and in Gomorrah it’s to dispose of toxic waste, but I saw only the workers. They were poor, uneducated and desperate for work. Whatever politics or wars were going on that brought them to the quarry – did it really matter? They needed to eat, and they were all trapped in a world not of their making and not in their control.
Gomorrah, directed by Matteo Garrone, is an extremely complicated crime story about the day to day operations of the lesser known and yet more prolific crime organization in Italy,the Camorra and the hard life of the normal people living in its grip. Every stereotype in my body tells me that this is not really organized crime but only impoverished, larcenous thugs who value life very little, so loosely banded together and without structure that no one is protected and everyone’s got a price on his head – literally. These stupid, brutal men might seem laughable if they hadn’t taken such a cold and complete hold on the area around Naples. But as we are reminded at the end of the film, the Camorra has killed more people than any other organized crime groups. They sell more drugs than any other, and have invested their gains in legitimate businesses all over the world, including the reconstruction of the twin towers. Roberto Saviano was forced into hiding for telling this story, and there’s really nothing funny about it. Gomorrah is grim movie that shows us a very grim reality. Do we want to see it or look away?
Gomorrah is not the kind of movie that is so violent that I found myself looking away – there is nothing gratuitous about the brutality and in some ways it’s made to seem mundane. It’s the reactions from the characters in the movie that are more interesting. The defiant mothers, the terrified children who want to seem tough, and the old timers who are trying to find their place and stay alive in this chaos.
While Gomorrah tells a very powerful story about the state of Italy, it’s also the story of all poor people everywhere today. When people are hungry and without education, this is what happens. It’s all about money: what some people are willing to do to become rich and what others are willing to do to merely survive.
In a way, it shows how we’ve come full circle back to the days of the middle ages. The days, if they ever really existed, of any kind of honor among thieves, like in the Mafia, are really over. We are returned to the days of marauding gangs of cold and heartless men in a lawless society who care as little about dying as they do killing.
In a way, this movie has something for everyone. It is a brutal piece of art, smart enough for those who like the art house films and gritty enough for those who love movies with violence. It may seem like a a world that is far away and not our concern here in the US, but I can’t stop thinking about how close it really is. We feel insulated from this kind of danger but it’s an artificial feeling of security.
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2008 – Director: Matteo Garrone
Writers: Roberto Saviano (book), Maurizio Braucci (screenplay), and 5 more credits »
Stars: Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Abruzzese and Toni Servillo