Brute realism – not the end all be all in art but sometimes useful:
“Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” – The Mafia Without Moralizing” by Kim Nicolini via Counterpunch, excerpted:
Shot on location with non-professional actors and stories based on actual events, Gomorrah brings the Mafia Myth down to its ugly reality. The film integrates a number of stories: thirteen-year old Toto, who is being recruited by the mafia; Don Ciro, who delivers money to families of imprisoned mob members; Marco and Ciro, two young men who worship Scarface; Pasquale the tailor who works in a mob-run sewing factory; and Roberto who facilitates the mafia’s exploits in waste management. Through these intersecting stories, their relation to the environment in which the movie is filmed, and the spare cinematography, Gomorrah shows the dark, gritty underbelly of capitalism and its relation to organized crime. There is nothing flashy here: no artful montages like the famous baptism scene in The Godfather, no self-reflexive storytelling like we get in Goodfellas. What we get instead is brutally claustrophobic documentary realism that refuses to distance us from the ugliness that plays out on the screen.
The film does open with a blue-saturated, hyper-stylized assassination scene in a tanning salon, but the minute the film’s title disrupts the scene and the assassins step out of the salon, all color and glamour are erased. And that’s the filmmakers’ point. The movie starts by giving us what we expect from a mafia movie, but then immediately strips that illusion away and shows us the ugly interior of what organized crime really is. It makes us see how style can be just another front for urban decay and corruption. The blue vanishes; the color is washed out, and everything is coated with a kind of foggy, dirty, grimy grit. Water is not blue but murky brown and barely casts a reflection. The insides of the apartments are dark tombs. A strip of hazy light barely cuts through the windows, and not a speck of sky is visible through the dirty glass. The only color in this film is red blood or green cloth piled on tables at the sewing factory (representing a different kind of bloodshed). Director Matteo Garrone says, “We wanted to shoot the movie like a reportage of war, like a documentary.” Indeed the film does feel like we are thrust into ground zero of a war, and the violence and bloodshed come at us rapid fire with no rhyme or reason, just chaos as if we are in a battle zone. Without the tools to distance us from the horror of this world, we feel like we are under assault, with no heroics to save us.
And this is reality. The housing projects where the majority of the film takes place are real and famous for having one of the highest rates of drug dealing, violence, and murder in Europe. The movie is based on actual events related to the real Camorra organization. But we have to remember that organized “crime” like the Camorra could not exist without its marriage to the “legitimate” forces of capital, and that organized crime is intricately connected to the European and global economic system. Scene after scene in the movie shows money being counted, exchanged, piled up, stuffed in boxes, traded for guns and drugs, paid by corporations to dispose of waste or to sew haute couture evening gowns in sweatshops. Money is what drives this toxic system, and the mafia is just another arm of capitalism. In the film, that connection is shown in the mafia’s relation to businesses like fashion and waste management. In one brief scene, the tailor Pasquale looks up at a TV screen and sees actress Scarlett Johansson at the Academy Awards in Hollywood. She is wearing one of the gowns sewn in his shop, a gown infused with the blood of the mob.
In that moment, we see the global reach of the mafia and the corporate capitalism that feeds it. The world is a toxic dumping ground for the poison that capitalism produces, and nowhere is this more clear than in the waste management narrative of the film. Try as it might by burying the stinking crap in the soil or hiring children to dispose of it, global capitalism produces waste that cannot be managed. When the entire economic system is poisonous, everything is tainted by it. The soil, the children, the housing, the clothing, the seaside, and the sky are all polluted by its toxic corruption. So if you feel like you can’t get your grounding in this film and can’t make sense of the violence that is unfolding, that’s because there is no grounding or sense in this system. There is only poison and the people who bear its legacy.