Gomorrah peeks into today’s criminal empire—and finds a lot of blood.

sarrisgomorrah 004 Gomorrah peeks into today’s criminal empire—and finds a lot of blood.Gomorrah
Running time 137 minutes
Written by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Starring Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettina, Gianfelice Imparato, Salvatore Cantalupo, Toni Servillo, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone

Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, from a screenplay by Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Gianni Di Gregorio, Mr. Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso and Roberto Saviano (in Italian with English subtitles), is based on the Italian best-selling book by Mr. Saviano. Mr. Saviano defines and describes the original empire that is the subject of Gomorrah: “Italian organized crime is an enterprise that generates war. It is responsible for 10,000 deaths in a 30 year period. According to official figures, there have been fewer victims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the beginning of the intifada. This enterprise is also one of the most powerful in Italy and one of the strongholds of the economy in Europe, with a business estimated at 150 billion euros per year. The entire FIAT Group has a global turnover of 58 billion euros per year.

“Over the last 30 years, the Camorra alone has murdered 4000 people, more than any other criminal organization or terrorist group. It has killed more people than the IRA, ETA, Islamic terrorist groups and Cosa Nostra. The numerous clans that make up the Camorra have divided up a densely populated area, which includes the provinces of Naples and Caserta. The frontiers of the boundaries and invisible kingdom expand daily and the clan’s command over it is total.”

Very little of this information is provided in the movie adaptation of Gomorrah, either in the dialogue or in the nonexistent narration. Instead, Mr. Garrone and his array of collaborative screenwriters, including himself and the novel’s author, Mr. Saviano, have fashioned a very localized canvas of the “criminal empire” with five interwoven strands of the narrative, each one leading to the same fatalistic ending, attesting to the ultimate invincibility and inevitability of this “empire.”

We seem to be confronting this same fatalistic conclusion about the Mexican drug cartels and their counterparts in Colombia; the trafficking of women in Thailand; the genocide in Darfur; and the devastating, misrule-induced epidemics in Zimbabwe. A pall has set in throughout the civilized and uncivilized worlds, especially during this global financial crisis.

The film has been shot in and around a ravaged apartment complex in the general area of Naples and Caserta. Cinematographer Marco Onorato has scrupulously followed the traditional diurnal discipline of balancing day footage with night footage, but since so much of the action is covert, the mood seems to be dismally grayish for much of the running time. In this miasma of malaise, the five successive episodes with different protagonists take place amid a universal fear of the Camorra by ordinary citizens.

Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), a 13-year-old boy, is enlisted by the clan as a runner, supplying drugs across the neighborhood. His constant movements serve to illuminate living conditions over a wide area. When he is offered full membership in one criminal clan, he momentarily hesitates, and this proves to be his undoing, as his mother, Simone (Simone Sacchettina), had always feared when she warned Toto of the dangers of having bad companions.

Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) is a clan leader in charge of paying the families of imprisoned Camorra members. He represents one of the few views from the near-top of clan membership. Nonetheless, Ciro’s hold on his own members begins to weaken in one of the frequent internal conflicts within the clans. These uprisings often lead to the murders of leaders, à la Howard Hawks’ Scarface in 1932.

The story of talented tailor Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) introduces a note of international intrigue in the dress industry through a Chinese factory owner, Xian (Zhang Ronghua), who persuades Pasquale, already working off the books for the clan, to moonlight as a teacher for the Chinese girls in the factory. Pasquale enjoys this work, but when he is threatened by the clan leaders, he fears for his life, and quits his pleasurable job.

Franco (Toni Servillo) is a waste disposal tycoon who offers recent college graduate Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) a cushy job in the criminal transfer of waste from northern Italy to southern Italy, causing the despoiling of fertile farmland and the spread of disease among the populace. Roberto literally walks away from the deal by getting out of the car and traipsing on foot to his next destination. By this time, we have become so aware of the Camorra’s vindictiveness that we are relieved when Roberto is not killed on the spot.

The final and most sustained of the five stories involves two punk kids, Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), who have seen too many American gangster movies. When they begin holding up gang hangouts after stealing a cache of Camorra automatic weapons, they are warned by the clan higher-ups that their disruptive actions must end immediately, or they will be terminated. Marco and Ciro do not take these warnings seriously until it is much too late.

But before their inevitable downfall, they figure in the film’s one explicit sex scene, in which Marco and Ciro are humiliated when they try to go too far with a strip-club’s lap dancer. In this one episode, their lack of maturity and sophistication makes them somewhat poignant victims of a world much more evil than they ever imagined with their pathetic delusions of grandeur. The final shots encapsulate the Camorra’s coldhearted disposal of human waste. It is a truly chilling moment on which to end a film.

asarris@observer.com