DVD of the Week – Review of Gomorrah (2009)

by TOM NIXON

It makes Goodfellas look dishonest and The Godfather ridiculous; Gomorrah delves deep into the Camorra-run Scampia slums and finds at their core an all-consuming abyss. This is a cold, cold cinema, a sprawling machine of tiny disposable parts which have no awareness of – interest in – anything existing beyond. There’s nothing elegiac about the deadened tone, nor is the process of stripping down itself romanticized a la No Country For Old Men. This is a gangster movie which hates other gangster movies for conjuring glorious, sweeping dramas out of a cesspool. It says a lot that the film feels as modern as anything.

We cut from thread to thread in a doggedly authentic tapestry of everyday goings on under the Camorra regime; a grocery delivery boy dreams of working for a local mob boss while a couple of adolescent Tony Montana wannabes dream of usurping him, an illegal deal is made concerning waste-disposal (poisonous, of course) in the area, a man reluctantly delivers the mob’s paltry payoffs to oft-outraged citizens, a mob-employed tailor attempts to secretly help out a rival sweatshop. Characters are rarely relatable and sometimes barely distinguishable, and so Gomorrah’s appeal is limited by its relentless detachment, but what could so easily end up an artless, redundantly journalistic account of a specific example of societal malaise ends up quite powerful in the way it instead presents its characters as a bunch of insects scrabbling headlong toward their own deaths.

Garrone’s expressionist brand of uncompromising realism goes beyond mere excellence in craft; his characters’ struggles take on the hollow whir of determinism, futility, inevitable doom. There’s universality to the howling vacuum fueling these inhabitants’ willing participation in the destruction of themselves and those around them; it seems worryingly applicable to the existential crisis currently underpinning much of western civilization, and the pathetic hopelessness of these people’s struggles disturbs all the more when viewed as a mere microcosm. When the film ends by claiming that the Camorra has invested in the reconstruction of the Twin Towers, the implication is that American identity post-Scarface and co. is being re-erected upon a foundation of corruption and decay, heading into ruin in exactly the same way as its beloved gangster icons. But I wonder if by the sheer bleakness of its vision Gomorrah doesn’t unintentionally come full circle, validating art’s power to romanticize by reminding of the ugliness and futility of the reality it seeks to invest with meaning.

Original Commentary Track review of Gomorrah by Helen Geib.

New releases this week: A Christmas Tale, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Paper Heart, Terminator Salvation

4 responses to “DVD of the Week – Review of Gomorrah (2009)

  1. I love this film. This is easily one of the best gangster films ever made (this not ACTUALLY being a gangster film) and many people dislike and even detest it because it’s not The Godfather or Goodfellas.

    Well fellas, there are different ways to bake a cake and the aftermath is up to personal taste. And filmmaking knowledge helps. >_0

  2. It’s not a disparagement of Goodfellas (or Gomorrah for that matter) to recognize that the films are very different. One point they have in common is to acknowledge the glamor the mobster lifestyle holds for some young men, and to reveal its corrosive falsehood.

    I don’t disagree with the characterization of the film as relentlessly detached, but I nevertheless had a strong emotional response to it. I cared very much what happened to the tailor and felt pity for the boy in the housing development and the mother of his friend. The visit to the farm cum toxic waste dump made me want to cry.

  3. I enjoyed, in a manner of speaking, thinking about this film again even though I’m not ready to watch it. It is cold, the cold of long contained rage, the cold of that dish best eaten cold – revenge – but not a heartless cold.

    Garrone’s attack on the Camorra is unsparing and comprehensive, but not, I think, pitiless. Some of the characters do struggle, some never have a chance. The corruption is so pervasive that it’s the ‘normal’ of peoples’ lives. There are choices made, though, and consequences in individual lives even as we (the audience) are feeling crushed by the sense of hopelessness and ‘inevitable doom’. I was thrilled when the tailor reclaimed his life and self; the boy’s choice to abdicate his own judgment and will to the gang is tragic.

    The film brilliantly assembles all those fragments of stories/lives/events and makes a coherent narrative statement. In that way it does validate the power of art to create emotion and shape meaning from raw reality. That doesn’t strike me as romanticizing the subject, though there is something Romantic in the struggle of the lone artist against powerful forces of evil.

  4. I MUCH prefer this to “The Godfather”. “The Godfather” is too Hollywood, this is plainly expert filmmaking.

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