Organised crime has long been a favourite topic in cinema with the gangster film being a favourite Hollywood genre ever since the 1930s. Gangster films reflected a dark, seductive and hedonistic side of capitalism where the glamour of the gangster lifestyle is only superficially undermined by the obligatory moral ending where the gangsters are either brought to justice or meet a violent demise. Italian gangsters have held the most fascination with The Godfather films, Goodfellas and the television series The Sopranos becoming dominant texts in contemporary popular culture. The depiction of the gangster lifestyle has become progressively less romantic across these texts as they increasingly examine the brutal reality of the criminal lifestyle and mentality. However, nothing has come close to the blunt depiction of Italian organised crime that is presented in the Italian film Gomorrah, which depicts the operations of the Camorra. The Camorra clans populate the Italian provinces of Naples and Caserta but their operations in both illegal and legal businesses, with an estimated yearly turnover of 150 billion euros, are global. They have been responsible for more than 4000 deaths in the last thirty years, which is more than any other criminal organisation or terrorist group.
Adapted from a best selling part-literary part-journalistic novel by Roberto Saviano (who has been living under police protection since 2006) Gomorrah tells five interweaving stories. The story of an aging money runner and the story of a 13-year-old boy who joins a rival clan, are located in the world’s largest open-air drug market in Scampia. Another story about a tailor reflects the Camorra’s involvement in the Italian fashion industry. A story about illegal waste management comments on the immense wealth the Camorra has amassed through their monopoly on toxic waste dumping, which has had a devastating agricultural, environmental and heath impact in Southern Italy. Finally, Gomorrah contains a story about a couple of hothead, wannabe gangster teenage boys. Filled with images from Brian De Palma’s Scarface they get way out of the depth while trying to prove themselves. In many ways they reflect the audience whose information about organised crime has come from cinema and television, making them oblivious to the insidious and harsh reality.
Director Matteo Garrone wisely adopts a very restrained and straightforward filming style to allow the power of the events on screen to resonate without distraction. With such raw material there is no need to do anything visually stylistic, which makes Gomorrah feel not so much like a documentary or exercise in cinéma vérité but rough footage that may have been shot by a passer-by. As a member of the audience you do feel as if you are in the scenes witnessing the events in real time. It’s rarely a comfortable sensation but it is absolutely compelling. Gomorrah is a significant inclusion in the gangster genre that takes that next step in removing the mystique and glamour from organised crime.