Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gomorra - The Inside View

Increasingly, with the increasing immediacy of the sharing of data and images and with the world seemingly becoming smaller each day, we seemingly benefit from an influx of knowledge and information that once crawled along at Amish pace but which now cruises towards -- and, invariably, past -- us at highway speeds. As a result, it's likely beyond our capability to process worthwhile nuggets of significant news that get lost among the varied and repetitive garbage we face each day. To wit, most of us could recite with relative precision the details surrounding Michael Jackson's death and his internment(s); how many among us could discuss the details of Robert McNamara's life, if not his death?

I happened upon the film Gomorra almost by chance. I'd seen its placard advertised in a small, independent theater that always features foreign-language films that are invariably about things with which I'm unfamiliar. Whether or not these films have value to me is largely irrelevant, because I typically avoid them. I do so not because they're not worth seeing, but because the hours in a day seem fewer and fewer and I find myself with decreasing interest in chasing something down which might be so weird I'll regret bothering in the first place. However, when I see awards from Cannes bestowed on a foreign-language film that happens to catch my eye -- and I get an opportunity to see such a film -- I try and go out of my way to do so.

I'm glad to say Gomorra proved extremely worthwhile.

I obtained a copy of Gomorra on Blu-Ray awhile ago; with Kaia heading from NYC to Europe this afternoon, I had some work to finish and then I found myself in the odd situation of being in limbo. Not having her here this coming week will be a bit strange, but when she heads out on a weekend, it's sort of like time stands still until I know she's landed where- and whenever said landing occurs. I didn't feel like heading out tonight -- between hockey, work, her flight and a half-dozen other factors, I didn't think much about doing much of anything, frankly -- so I finally fired up this film.

First, the title of the film -- Gomorra -- is a veiled reference to the twin biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which, in theory, were destroyed by God for their extreme, brazen wickedness. The play on the title of the film is in direct reference to the mafia in the region of Naples known as La Camorra; if you've ever considered visiting Naples in person, avoid seeing this film until you've done so. Failure to heed this advice will likely kill your desire to visit Naples and, perhaps, Italy in general.

When I think of "mob films," three in particular come to mind: The Godfather (the first and its sequel) and Goodfellas. Gomorra, however, bears neither the polished elegance of the Godfather films nor the raw charm and charisma of Goodfellas. What it features, aside from an entirely Italian dialogue (with English subtitles), is a stark, intense depiction of life in Naples under the Neapolitan mob. It tells a variety of stories: of children growing up and learning to be criminals, of people attempting to avoid making deals with the devil -- in the form of Camorra enforcers and local bosses, and the stark, intense nature of crime, money, drugs, toxic dumping and people treating one another in repulsive ways. The film is, in some ways, an ode to off-kilter story-telling as nowhere in the film is the term Camorra used. However, it demonstrates -- with frankness -- the lives of the people the Camorra destroys, either by leaving them or their family members as corpses, imprisoned, or even worse, in the path of this criminal machine.

I wasn't aware this film was focused on the Camorra, and frankly I wasn't aware of the Camorra's formal existence until after seeing this film and reading about the subject matter in detail afterward. However, knowing that the events depicted in this film are, relatively speaking, commonplace is disconcerting, to say the least. We all know, in general, of man's inhumanity to man, and we know these things take place with regularity. However, this film's dark, unyielding depiction of these events is intense and troubling. Further, few -- if any -- of the characters in this film are "good guys," and none of the people herein are people you'd really want to meet. However, the film shows their lives in such plain, unbiased detail you can't help but be amazed and disgusted by the events as they unfold.

In hindsight, the sheer intensity and disturbing imagery contained herein make me glad I watched this film alone and without Kaia. There is a lot of blood, but that's not really the troubling imagery which I referred to earlier. The imagery is knowing these repulsive things are happening out in the open, under dark, ominous, sunless skies in a place that I always believed to be an ideal destination. Part of the film addresses the Camorra's penchant for illegally dumping toxic waste throughout Italy. Aside from the fact that the agent profiting from this activity shows no concern whatsoever for the lives he adversely affects by doing so, it forces us into these untenable positions. What if we're offered silver, for complying with -- actively or passively -- criminal behavior, or lead for refusing to be complicit? The film shows -- in remarkably nonjudgmental fashion -- these situations and demonstrates, in a subtle way, that there is no easy answer and no easy solution.

The film is intense, encompassing and essentially forces the viewer to be a witness to this brazen, repulsive behavior. The biblical comparison aside, it's an impressive feat for a film to educate and enlighten about material so dark and disturbing without being condescending or judgmental, and that in and of itself is reason alone to see it. The fact it's riveting in its stark depiction of these lives and this activity is yet another. None of these actors -- many of whom were "real" people and not actually actors -- are or will be household names. Yet, the story they all work together to tell will remain with the viewer for some time. It's far easier to wag a finger or read an article about how a criminal machine like the Camorra sucks in its prey and predators alike. It's far more difficult to ensnare the viewer with this type of "insider" bird's eye view. I'm glad to conclude director Matteo Garrone has not only attempted the latter but succeeded with stellar, if not disturbing, results.

No comments: