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'Gomorrah' Helmer Accused of Collaborating With the Mob During Filming

Grand Prix
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Matteo Garrone

Cannes 2012 Grand Prix winner Matteo Garrone allegedly paid off Naples crime families.

ROME – Prosecutors in the southern Italian city of Naples said Monday that they are looking into whether producers of the prize-winning organized crime epic Gomorrah may have illegally collaborated with Naples crime families while making the film.

Gomorrah won wide praise, including the Jury prize and a Palme d’Or nomination in Cannes in 2008, a nomination for the Golden Globes in the best foreign-language film category and seven David di Donatello prizes, and it was also Italy’s official nominee for the foreign-language Oscar in 2009.

So far, author Roberto Saviano, who wrote the book the film was based on, and director Matteo Garrone, whose follow-up film Reality won the Grand Prix prize in Cannes this year, have been silent about the charges that they may have paid protection money and had illegal cooperation with mob figures during the filming of the project.

Gomorrah -- the title is a play on words crossing the Biblical city of Gomorrah and the Camorra, the official name for the Neapolitan Mafia -- graphically and darkly tells the stories of five people who try to make a compact with the crime families.

It now appears that the film’s producers may have done the same thing. Based on statements from Oreste Spagnuolo, a former Camorra figure turned informant, authorities are looking into whether Garrone may have paid a €20,000 ($26,000) bribe to crime kingpin Alessandro Cirollo. Additionally, the probe is looking into whether Camorra figures had a say in how the film was made, if they requested protection money when filming went into dangerous neighborhoods in Naples and whether producers were made to patronize Camorra-controlled businesses for supplies.

The film already had organized crime in its DNA. Garrone has been praised for coaxing great acting performances from nonprofessional actors, many of whom had some connection to the mob in the past. Garrone lived for two months in the rough Naples neighborhood of Scampia to prepare for the production, and Saviano was put under police protection after receiving threats for the book.

Garrone’s latest production, Reality, won attention in Cannes in part because protagonist Aniello Arena, who played the role of the fish seller, is in jail for murder. Arena was allowed to leave prison during the day to make the film but worked with guards watching, and he was required to return to prison each night. Garrone discovered him acting in a prison acting troupe he came in contact with in connection with Gomorrah.