Cambridge Film Festival Review – Gomorrah

While working as a volunteer for the Cambridge Film Festival, I’m trying to see as many films as possible. Everything I see will be reviewed on this blog, along with a short write-up of the outdoor screenings the Festival is running this year.


Dir. Matteo Garrone (Italy)

135 mins

Screened: Thursday 18th September 2008

 Portrayals of organised crime onscreen have often glamourised gangsters, even as they seek to deliver a moral message. The Sopranos, among others, has recently shown the everyday “work” of the Mafia in a banal and grubby light. But at its heart, the mobsters are the main characters, and we still root for them. There is no such symppathy in Matteo Garrone’s crime drama, adapted from Roberto Saviano’s bestsellling expose of the Camorrah, the main organised crime family of Naples. Taking the form of a series of interconnected stories, it explores the effect of crime on already desperate people.

A young boy living on a warren-like housing estate aspires to join the local gang. A pair of Scarface-obsessed teenagers plan to steal a cache of weapons. A tailor is squeezed by his boss’s orders to work harder for less money. A senior mob figure oversees the dumping of toxic waste in a disused quarry. The last story ingeniously mirrors the way the Camorrah’s activities and the ensuing moral corruption poisons everything it touches.

The film’s deliberately unglamourous and naturalistic style emphasises the squalid nature of the criminal activities portrayed, with long hand-held takes leading us around the locations, which range from cramped apartments to a desolate stretch of beach. Apart from a short scene in Venice, there is hardly anything recognisably “Italian”. This is a trans-European world of open borders and globalised crime, where human life, along with everything else, is judged on a financial basis. The characters caught in the web of the Camorrah are commodities, as much as the dresses turned out in sweatshops to be labelled haute couture, or the peaches gifted by a civilian to a mob boss, who then tips them out of his car to rot by the side of the road.

Ultimately, the bleak conclusions to the individual stories was never in doubt. But I would have liked to travel further up the food chain, and see how government and the police deal with the gangs. (Collusion? Hostility? Resigned tolerance?) Regardless, Gomorrah is a dark but essential drama, part City of God, part The Wire, and all about the way our continent, and our world, lives now.


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