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Monday, May 25, 2009

Gomorrah

Scenes from the Italian mob

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Gomorrah, the best seller by Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, isn't merely an investigation into organized crime in Naples. The Camorra, as the Neapolitan mob is called, is an international player, an unregulated transnational corporation with particularly bad manners, an octopus whose tentacles reach into the streets and shopping malls of America. Corruption rings the world's institutions like a scrim of toxic smog, wrapping politics, finance and commerce in moral twilight. According to Saviano, the Camorra is among the most powerful engines of corruption.

Saviano helped adapt his nonfiction book into a dramatized feature film by Italian director Matteo Garrone, turning many of his key points into an ongoing, crisscrossing set of vignettes populated by characters evil, resigned or doomed. Set in the port of Naples and a nearby nightmare of run-down high-rise housing, Gomorrah puts a set of human faces on corruption that corrodes society like acid on metal or termites in a wooden house.

The film's producers attached the line "Presented by Martin Scorsese" to the opening credits, assured that the blessing of one of Hollywood's distinguished directors will attract attention. But as Scorsese well knows, Gomorrah has little connection to any major American Mafia picture. There is no rosy glow of nostalgia, no sepia-toned backward glances at an age when even killers had a code of honor and certainly no glorification of violence and crime, no amped-up chase scenes or unrealistic body counts. Garrone's adaptation is true to the unvarnished depiction of murder and extortion in Saviano's book and is heir to the Italian neo-realist tradition of gritty locations and actors who don't appear to be acting.

The greedy reach of the Camorra extends into such fields as toxic waste, which they dispose of cheaply and carelessly on behalf of European industry, and high fashion, whose dingy workshops they control. In one of Gomorrah's most telling scenes, a tailor looks up and recognizes the outfit worn by Scarlett Johansson on television. She smiles as she glides past the paparazzi down the red carpet with no idea that the gown she wears might as well be stained with blood.