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.