Gangland Style Gone Mainstream

29 Sep 2013: Gomorra (DVD, 2008, Matteo Garrone)

Apart from a couple of extremely long shots (trucks rolling into a hazardous waste quarry, for one example) and sometimes colorful lighting (tanning booths, strip clubs), there is little visual distinction here from hundreds of other contemporary films dealing with similar (and even rather disparate) subjects – this I wrote halfway through the film, which upon completion appears appropriately shortsighted. It’s true that nothing in the cinematography calls much attention to itself, yet over the course of the entire film one can see something register more richly than others shot likewise. We get to linger longer over cracked and weathered faces as they speak out of throats marked with vocal nodes or charred by cigarettes, observing and drifting a bit with the moving camera as they shift from impassivity to animation and anger; there is more of the respectful continuity for the characters of newer Romanian films than the perfunctory cross-cutting of American indies. For mafia films, this one perhaps most effectively depicts every level of the organization and its inextricable interrelationship with “upstanding” institutions and figureheads of normal society, though like the others it favors the more-shocking-to-depict low-level shootings of the young and innocent as pivotal events, as opposed to the cleaner-looking corruption that causes cancer and poverty among other things. If I’d seen this before Biutiful, I’d say the latter was a rip-off – but by comparison this film goes much further and does much better in its sprawl at maintaining a critical social view, rather than focusing all evil onto the (eventually absolved) guilt of a single unlucky man. All the same, the information provided at the end credits to elevate the story in its profound seriousness falls a little flat and raises more questions: if the Camorra crime family has killed 4000 people over thirty years, they’re actually rather harmless by the standards of typical and legal corporate behavior, not to mention smoking, alcohol or automobile accident statistics, as well as officially sanctioned wars and foreign policies. As far as this film functions as a metaphor for this broader reality – and it can – it resonates deeply, but as making a gritty case for the awfulness of particular people it’s choosing a shallow, easy target.

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