Film Review: Gomorra, Cannes, In Competition

Powerful, stripped to its very essence and featuring a spectacular cast (of mostly non-professionals), Matteo Garrone's sixth feature film "Gomorra" goes beyond Tarrantino's gratuitous violence and even Scorsese's Hollywood sensibility in depicting the everyday reality of organized crime's foot soldiers. The characters of the film's five stories all work for the Camorra - the Neapolitan "mafia" behind over 4,000 murders in 30 years in Italy, and countless illegal activities - and besides being extremely dangerous are relentless, petty and anything but wise.

Success at home is virtually guaranteed for "Gomorra" as it's based on Roberto Saviano's eponymous 2006 bestseller (1.2 million copies sold, translated into 33 languages) and the build-up to its release along with selection in competition at Cannes have created a huge buzz in Italy. Internationally, the film has sold to a handful of European territories so far, as well as Canada, though buyers are expected to grow significantly after Cannes.

"Gomorra" is one of the rare dramatic films to come out of Italy in recent years that has the appeal to play well theatrically, at least in Europe, and in festivals worldwide. In the U.S., it should play to the widest possible range of art house audiences looking for a thinking person's mafia movie.

At times slow and documentary-like, "Gomorra" is tension-filled and highly realistic. (Author and co-screenwriter Saviano, 29, has been under police escort even since the book was published.) Shot predominantly in Naples' Scampia neighborhood - an architectural nightmare of enormous rundown apartment blocks - the film never caters to those looking for the kind of adrenaline or over-the-top humor or glamor that's come to be associated with the genre.

Garrone neither judges nor idolizes in his sober approach, and restrains from too many other indulgences, artistic or formulaic, beyond handheld camera work and numerous close-ups. And the faces he chooses, predominantly people plucked from the streets on which he films, make most movie mafiosos look like models.

Even the film's soundtrack (Neapolitan pop music, sparingly used) adds to the overall feel of background rather than imposing a mood. Garrone also makes use of total silence and, rather than coming across as a manipulative film school trick, it only enhances particularly emotional scenes.

Apart from the film's most notable star, Toni Servillo, other standout performances come from Gianfelice Imparatore, Salvatore Cantalupo, Carmine paternoster and 13-year-old Salvatore Abruzzese.

Cast: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale, Salvatore Cantalupo, Gigio Morra, Salvatore Abruzzese, Marco Macor, Ciro Petrone, Carmine Paternoster. Director: Matteo Garrone. Screenwriters: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Roberto Saviano. Producer: Domenico Procacci. Director of photography: Marco Onorato. Production designer: Paolo Bonfini. Costume designer: Alessandra Cardini. Editor: Marco Spoletini.
Production companies: Fandango, RAI Cinema
Sales Agent: Fandango Portobello Sales
No MPAA rating, 135 minutes.