When living in Italy in the nineties my primary exposure to Naples came in my infrequent visits to one of the many European factories of the company for which I worked. My favorite and most memorable part of these trips was when our Naples plant manager would send me packing back north to Varese with a Styrofoam cooler filled with fresh and delicious mozzarella di bufala. The only exposure I had to its darker side was when a co-worker had her purse stolen out of her car when she was stopped at a traffic light, with the assailant breaking the passenger window, grabbing the purse off the passenger seat and driving off on a Vespa.
I was vaguely aware of the Camorra, knowing they were Italy's oldest Mafia-like organization and that they were based in the Campania region and its capital Naples, but that's about it. Matteo Garrone's excellent and award-winning film Gomorrah, based on the book and courageous investigative reporting of journalist Roberto Saviano, provides an unflinching look at the poverty, despair and brutality that is prevalent in Naples due to the toxic presence of the Camorra. In his book Gomorra, Saviano brings into the light the international reach and large stakes of the Camorra in construction, high fashion, illicit drugs and toxic-waste disposal. He writes of the malign grip it exerts on cities and villages along the Neapolitan coast and shows why Campania has the highest murder rate in all of Europe and why cancer levels there have skyrocketed in recent years.
This excerpt from a New York Times review of the film provides a quick glimpse into Garrone's unglamorous depiction of organized crime.
The sense that you are visiting an alien world is critical to the film’s forceful grip, which immediately takes hold of you in the opening with images of some men bathed in dark blue light standing in what turn out to be sunbathing booths. With their goggles, shimmering bare flesh and strange metal pods, the men initially look like space travelers, an idea that vanishes when sudden gunfire adds blasts of orange and spurts of red to the palette. You never learn who the men are or why they died: death makes these details irrelevant. What matters is that this is a world in which people kill other human beings as casually as you take out the garbage because, for them, other human beings are fundamentally disposable.
Among the most imperiled are two teenage dimwits (Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone) who run amok while shouting lines from Brian de Palma’s "Scarface" (always a bad idea) and a delicate-faced 13-year-old (Salvatore Abruzzese) who joins the Camorra without realizing the price it will exact. Interwoven with these separate story threads are three others: that of a couture tailor (Salvatore Cantalupo) whose factory is controlled by the Camorra; a money runner (Gianfelice Imparato) who delivers weekly payments to mob families; and an urbane businessman (Toni Servillo) and his aide (Carmine Paternoster), who, by arranging for companies discreetly to (“ ‘clean,’ like they say in the United State”) dump their toxic waste in fields and quarries throughout the region, are literally poisoning its people.
Though the film is by no means uplifting, it is riveting, eyeopening and a worthy investment of a couple of hours.