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The title Gomorrah is a play on the name of the ill-fated, decadent and lawless city of the bible and the Italian word, Camorra, meaning ‘system’, and the label by which the Naples criminal organisation – said to be bigger and more powerful than Sicily’s Mafia - has become known. Andrew L. Urban reports.

Italian journalist and Gomorrah author Roberto Saviano is under permanent police protection after receiving death threats from the Camorra for exposing their activities in his 2006 book (published by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore) and the subsequent film adaptation, produced by Domenico Procacci’s Fandango Productions. The film’s veracity is thus authenticated in a dramatic fashion and his book is often referred to as an exposé. Filmmaker Matteo Garrone approached Saviano after reading his book, and the pair collaborated on the screenplay.

"rooted in brutal reality"

At its world premiere at Cannes in 2008, Gomorrah won the Grand Prix and went on to collect a number of other awards and nominations. It is set in the province of Naples and Caserta, whose residents confront the ‘system’ every day in matters large and small. In the film, directed by Garrone, five fictional stories are woven together, each rooted in brutal reality.

But while in the book Saviano is a central figure, as the reporter, the film takes a more cinematic approach – albeit naturalistic and devoid of glamour. Unlike romanticised movies about the Mafia where the dress code is extravagantly stylish, these characters dress in sloppy casuals and live in housing that could be mistaken for slums in some parts of the Western world.

The oldest of the film’s [protagonists, Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) is "il sottomarino" who pays the families of the prisoners that are affiliated with his clan, a clan that has the undisputed command of the territory. He is sharp, discreet and carries out his job without getting involved. But when the clan begins to crumble, he doesn’t know who wields the power any more; a dangerous situation.

The youngest character, Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese), is 13 years old and keen to grow up; he begins his training in the school of life, one step at a time, until one day he has to make an irreversible and crucial decision.

"living in a Brian de Palma film"

Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) think they are living in a Brian de Palma film, but in the eyes of the 'system' they are like stray dogs whose acts of silly bravado are disturbing the orderly routine of business.

Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) is a university graduate looking for work. Franco (Toni Servillo) offers him steady employment with good earning prospects: a job in toxic waste management. But the ghastly reality of the task is too disconcerting for Roberto's conscience.

Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) is a talented tailor who works surreptitiously for a small enterprise subcontracted by the haute couture clothes industry. When Chinese competitors come to him wanting to learn the tricks of the trade, he is seduced into agreeing – but his actions put his life in grave danger.

The film does not attempt show any of the big bosses who make the many millions in the Camorra, nor any of the spoils of the ‘system’; these characters live hard, oppressed lives. They are the pawns, easily dismissed, squashed, killed.

Filmmaker Garrone (who also frequently operated the camera) shot on actual locations, such as the housing complex called Vele di Sampi, where, as cinematographer Marco Onorato told Kodak's InCamera magazine "we could only shoot for a couple of hours in the morning because the effects of crack made the people aggressive and our safety would have been compromised."

Gomorrah was Italy’s official entry in the Foreign Language category of the 2009 Academy Awards.

"he recalls seeing his first murder at the age of fourteen"

Garrone, born in Rome in 1968, had already made a film set in Naples; a 1998 documentary titled Oreste Pipoli, fotografo di matrimoni; the same year he made the multi-award winning Guests (Ospiti). In 2002, his film, The Taxidermist, was invited to screen in Directors Fortnight at Cannes; the film won several awards, including Best Screenplay at the David di Donatello Awards.

The author, Saviano worked as an assistant at a Chinese textile manufacturer and on a construction site, both controlled by the ‘system’, and as a waiter at a Camorra wedding. Born in Naples, he recalls seeing his first murder at the age of fourteen, and how his own father, a doctor, suffered a brutal beating for trying to help an 18 year old victim, left for dead in the street.

* This is one of several articles by Urban that have been commissioned for ‘Mafia’, to be published internationally by Millennium House (late 2009) exploring the history of organised crime around the world throughout modern history.

Published May 14, 2009

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Gomorrah author, Roberto Saviano


Gomorrah director, Matteo Garrone

MAFIA - to be published internationally by Millennium House (late 2009) exploring the history of organised crime around the world throughout modern history.

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