"'Gomorrah' is a film about the Camorra. It's neither pro-Camorra or anti-Camorra. And to tell that story, we needed the help of people living inside the system. It was important not to be manipulated, and that didn't happen, I have to say. When people criticize me for this choice, i reply that it's far better to make an honest movie about the world of the Camorra with the help of the Camorra than to make a movie without the help of the Camorra, that tries to make that world of crime glamorous and fascinating, when in reality it's anything but." -Matteo Garrone, from an interview in the supplements package.
Sometimes, it's best to let the words come from the horse's mouth, as they've already said it as best as it could be said. Garrone's 'Gomorrah,' based on the "nonfiction novel" from Robert Saviano has had such an impact that Saviano has had to be put under constant police protection, as his work on the Camorra, a real crime syndicate/mafia in Naples stirred up a bit of controversy in the all-too powerful mob. Life imitating (and proving) art.
The tales found in Garrone's adaptation of the work aren't direct translations (no cut and paste job here) of Saviano's work, rather they are an interpretation. The film follows five distinct facets (or layers) of the Camorra, from the lowliest wannabe gangsters to the high ups rubbing elbows among the elite in "legitimate" business. There's Totò (Nicolo Manta), a young delivery boy who dreams of joining the mob, and goes through the initiation, drawing a line between lifelong friendships, and testing his loyalties when some of his customers turn out to be supposed enemies of his new gang family. Don Circo (Gianfelice Imparato) is a delivery man of a different sort, delivering financial support to the families of gang members, but internal conflict puts him in a life or death situation where his loyalties are tested as well.
Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) are a duo of goofy teens who idolize 'Scarface' and the legendary Tony Montana, and want to live the life. They live dangerously on the edge, but when they discover a cache of guns, the real violence will come at them, rather than from them. Their newly empowered spirits may have crossed a few too many lines with their newfound firepower. Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) is a tailor for a Camorra controlled company who takes a night job training Chinese workers to create high end clothing. His trips to and from his night job, in the trunk of a car for protection, may be bumpier for more reasons than potholes. Lastly, Franco (Toni Servillo) is a higher up, working as a businessman in the waste disposal business, with his new protege Roberto (Carmine Paternoster), where cutting corners and undercutting competition is the name of the game, at the expense of the health of every resident in the area.
'Gomorrah' is not a tale of individual successes or failures, innocence or guilt. The people portrayed are not so different from each other, all wanting to make it big and further their lifestyles and positions by any means possible. Despite the varied layers of involvement of each of the main characters in the film, no one man is more important than the others in terms of narrative purpose. In fact, the film is much like the non-linear, numerous converging stories style that has had great success in America in recent years, like a grittier 'Goodfellas' told in a 'Crash' fashion, only better than both films combined.
The area portrayed, Scampia, is diverse, portrayed as slums loaded to the brim with crime, with a wide sampling of Camorra control, from dresses to drugs, with drive bys, death, and decay everywhere. It is a character of its own, decayed morality, huddled together like a dirty ghetto, a breeding ground for a disease of the non-viral assortment. Weddings take place on one layer of a complex, while directly above them, youths are pushing drugs. The police? Rarely present, not a real impediment to the illegal workings. Gunfire? Everywhere, to the point that it's somewhat ignored.
What sets the film apart is the manner in which it is portrayed. This is not a glitz and glam crime caper. There is no hero, no deals cut, and no escape. There are no bright lights, fast cars, or hot women. Everything is business, from the up and up to the down low and dirty. There's no political agenda, or sense of righteousness. This is just the nitty gritty, a two and a quarter hour long ride through Naples that feels like a ride around the block, loaded with beautiful scenery and the utmost in realism, from actors to extras and locations. The brutality is so cold blooded it's almost reptilian.
You can keep your 'Godfather' movies, and their "offers you cannot refuse." I'll stick with the offer you have no choice in, the lifestyle that envelopes everyone around it, the death lingering around every corner for anyone who crosses the wrong man, with no warning, no chance for amends to be made.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Gomorrah' arrived on Blu-ray earlier in the year in the UK, from Optimum Home Entertainment, in a Region B locked package. This domestic release, spine 493 from the Criterion Collection, returns the favor with a Region A locked coding. The film arrives on a BD50 Dual Layer disc, with the requisite booklet containing photos, chapter descriptions, film information, and an essay from Chuck Stephens.
'Gomorrah' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer that was supervised and signed off on by both Matteo Garrone and the film DP Marco Onorato. While the video is as stunning as the movie it is for, that doesn't mean it's perfect.
The booklet included in this release, as is the case with other Criterion titles, details the attention to detail in the "About the Transfer" section on page 15, admitting that a DRS system was employed to removed dirt, debris, stains, and so on. There may be some tinkering done on this front; however, the results of which are not a distraction whatsoever, as the print looks near untouched. One would have to really be splitting hairs to fault this disc for digital manipulation.
Colors aren't constant, as the film occasionally shifts from over-saturation to bleak and washed out hues. This can be explained by the varying tales, each taking a particular aesthetic. Skin tones, though, remain accurate and lifelike, a beauty not stripped by any aesthetics, that run hot ever so briefly. Contrast is strong, while detail is equally powerful, showing off early with peach fuzz on arms, and throughout the film with the decay of the landscape.
Grain levels are healthy (perhaps a nice way to say strong), but they do not impede detail in the slightest, as facial detail can be overpowering at times, with character literally coming out of character's pores. The film has a deep three dimensional feel, with a few shots reaching to the end of the world. There was some ugly aliasing in the c-trains in the shots with the toxic containers, but otherwise jaggies weren't an issue, nor was edge enhancement. I also noticed some light color banding, but it was not significant.
The audio for 'Gomorrah' comes with one option: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with removable English subtitles, which are new and improved for this release.
Dialogue is clearly prioritized, no matter the setting, coming through cleanly regardless of how many other people are talking, or noises in the background are present. The soundtrack receives an auspicious start, with the tanning salon scene lacking any real bass, but this is the exception, not the rule, as all other music features a solid bass thud, along with some nice surround activity. Localization and movement are present when necessary, matching action on screen, rather than throwing activity at random to the rears for no logical reason. Gunfire doesn't scream like a Hollywood glam feature, but has an appropriate pop and thud. The beach sequence (the one with Ciro and Marco in their skivvies) has to be the strongest scene in the film from an audio perspective, as the weapons go absolutely crazy. High end sounds are gorgeous, with perfect fidelity. All in all, a beautiful mix for a beautiful (in a gritty way) film.
If one wanted to get a better grip on the film for a first time viewing, I'd recommend sitting down to most of this supplement package before going head first into the film. Sadly, there is no audio commentary (Martin Scorcese, looking at you) to give the package some flavor, as this release seems shallow compared to how infinitely deep many other Criterion releases are.
'Gomorrah' (much like the land in the Bible destroyed by God) is a tale of corruption like you may never have seen before. The non-linear timeline (think 'Pulp Fiction' for the closest parallel in narrative choices) may confuse some, but it only took me one viewing to discover the genius and depth of this Italian film, destined to be a classic. This Criterion release sports solid audio and video that can turn heads for sure, but sports a weak set of extras, especially compared to the likes of 'The Third Man.' Do yourself a favor and blind buy this release, whether you've bought Criterion titles in the past or not. It's an experience that is not to be missed.