Gomorrah by the Italian director, Matteo Garrone, is a thrilling evisceration of the Camorra, the criminal organization that, like the better-known Mafia in Sicily, has ruled for centuries in southern Italy from its headquarters in Naples. Unlike the Mafia, the Camorra does not commit high-profile assassinations such as those exposed in Mario Turco’s 2005 Excellent Cadavers. Rather more discreetly, the Camorra concentrates on murders of the poor, drug distribution, toxic-waste disposal and fashion design. To quote Roberto Saviano, author of the book on which Gomorrah is based – he was once a Camorrista himself and also co-wrote the screenplay:
“In Europe the Camorra has killed more people than any other criminal organization. 4,000 deaths in the last 30 years. Once every three days. Scampia [the hellish Naples suburb where much of the movie was shot] is the largest open-air drug market in the world. Daily sales per clan run about 500,000 euros. If clan-managed toxic waste were piled up, it would reach 47,900 feet. Mount Everest is 29,000 feet high. Cancer rates have increased 20 per cent in the poisoned areas. Profits for illegal activities are reinvested in legal activities worldwide. The Camorra has invested in the reconstruction of the Twin Towers.”
The actors, some professional, many not, are uniformly excellent. The poor, sad, hopeless locations – indelible in scope and detail and color, particularly the aforementioned Scampia – are beautifully photographed by Marco Onorato. Included in the bonus materials, for which The Criterion Collection is renowned, Garrone, in an hour-long interview, is extremely entertaining about helpful Camorristi showing just where you stand when blowing a victim away, as well as about how concerned the thugs were with how they looked on screen. In another interview, Saviano tells of the influence of movies like The Godfather (of course) and Brian De Palma’s Scarface.
Believe me, after so much reality diversions like these are welcome.
2 Discs, Italy, 2008, in Italian with English subtitles, 137 minutes, The Criterion Collection, SRP $39.95
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Here is a random listing of some of my favorite DVDs of the year.
Far and the way most entertaining is I Served the King of England by the Czech director Jirí Menzel, the 26th of this great artist’s films, best known in this country for his 1966 Closely Watched Trains. A joyous overview of the sophisticated history of the Czech Republic told through the eyes of a diminutive waiter whose fortunes rise and fall and rise and fall just like those of his native land. As the hero declares, “My luck was always to have bad luck.” From a book by Bohumil Hrabal, Menzel’s frequent collaborator. (Sony Pictures)
Dusan Makavejev: Free Radical. Three satires of life in the former Yugoslavia, made in the 1960s, early in this master’s career. These are tragic comedies and each is well worth watching. My favorite is Love Affair, Or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, but why not watch them all. (The Criterion Collection)
Prima Ballerina. Two excellent short documentaries by Laurent Gentot, one on Svetlana Zakharova of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, the other on Ulyana Lopatkina of the Marinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. The first dancer is an embodiment of the title, the second an embodiment of dance. (First Run Features)
Il Generale Della Rovere by Roberto Rossellini, reviewed in these pages http://www.counterpunch.com/sonnenberg06192009.html.
Ballast by Lance Hammer, also reviewed here https://www.counterpunch.org/sonnenberg05222009.html.
O’Horten by Bent Hamer, ditto https://www.counterpunch.org/sonnenberg11202009.html.
The Exterminating Angel by Luis Buñuel, ditto https://www.counterpunch.org/sonnenberg03062009html.
Simon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel, ditto http://www.counterpunch.com/sonnenberg03272009.html.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, by Chantal Akerman, https://www.counterpunch.org/sonnenberg09042009.html.
Last Year At Marienbad by Alain Resnais, https://www.counterpunch.org/sonnenberg09042009.html.
Finally, with apologies to my readers for not giving it the attention it deserves: Do the Right Thing 20th anniversary edition. Spike Lee’s breakthrough film, with 4 hours of bonus material. (Universal)