"It’s really an indictment, not only of Italy but of the entire modern world," director Martin Scorsese tells The Daily Beast about Matteo Garrone's Gomorra, the provocative Italian mafia film now making the festival rounds. "In my view, this is what the real world is like, the world slightly below the surface."
The Southern Italian mafia depicted in Gomorra is about as real as it gets. Audiences looking for a classic mobster movie will be quite surprised. Gangster flicks usually present an intoxicating mixture of violence and glamour. Hit men drive slick cars, wear sumptuous pelts and chains, and hire interior decorators with a thing for gold and marble. The money may be greasy, but American moviegoers (and HBO obsessives) have come to view the mafia as almost aspirational—all jazz soundtrack and tough talk. This is not the case with the Camorra, the real Italian mob based in Naples, Italy, and the subject of Gomorra. A far cry from the lush life of Tony Soprano, the members of the Camorra live in near poverty and live hard, practicing drug trafficking, extortion, racketeering and acts of brutal violence. Though it’s never wise to mess with gangsters, this Neopolitan syndicate is particularly dangerous—in the past thirty years, they have murdered over 4,000 Italians, topping the assassination numbers of the ETA and IRA. And for the 150 billion Euros they reportedly traffic each year, their members see little of it and live like downtrodden criminals.
Garrone's Gomorra tells five interconnected tales about this world, and is dark, grisly and completely captivating; it won the Cannes grand prize this year. The film is based on an expose of the same name by Roberto Saviano, an Italian author who has since been threatened by several Camorra “godfathers” for publishing his work. Saviano is considered a national hero for uncovering the dealings in Naples. Garrone is also on his way, having made a visually arresting and beautifully sparse drama that lays bare the murderous conditions of the region.
Scorsese, whose Mean Streets could have justifiably served as Garonne’s inspiration, screened the film as part of the New York Film Festival on October 3and has become a champion for its U.S. release. Below, he tells The Daily Beast why Gomorra will be the foreign film to watch this year and marks a new, exciting era of Italian cinema:
It has a very inventive structure and a strong, intense visualization that at times becomes nightmarish.
"I wasn’t necessarily drawn to Gomorra for its subject matter, even though it has a correlation to a subject matter that I’m usually associated with, in films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino. Rather, I was interested in where the film is placed now in the history of Italian movies and very impressed by the filmmaking itself. It has a very inventive structure and a strong, intense visualization that at times becomes nightmarish.
I say nightmarish, because one of the great strengths of the film is that, due to its aesthetic rigor, it feels as if there is no exit at all from this world that you’re watching. Forget exposition in any traditional sense: when you look at the film you don’t know what country you’re in, they don’t tell you, you don’t know… let alone a city or a street, it’s as if you’re being dropped onto another planet. You’re totally on your own and there’s no relief, there’s no way out—even though you sense the only way out is bad for the people up there on the screen. The film is made, you’re certain that the world that you’re experiencing in the film, the one in which these characters are playing out this drama, that world, no matter what happens to those characters, will continue to exist.
I guess you could trace this to the films of Francesco Rosi, films like The Mattei Affair, certainly Hands Over the City, and my favorite, Salvatore Giuliano, because there’s a real ferocity to the film, a ferocity of commitment. It’s really an indictment, not only of Italy but of the entire modern world. In my view, this is what the real world is like, the world slightly below the surface. Scratch that surface, even lightly, and you’ll find this up there on the screen.
I made a film on Italian cinema, a documentary, on how it had influenced me over the years and how much I owed to it. It isn’t even a matter of influencing, it’s a matter of loving that cinema and it being a big part of my life. At the time, Bernardo Bertolucci was asked about the documentary and what it means to younger filmmakers in Italy, who have been waiting for a resurgence of Italian cinema, a Renaissance, and he gave this advice (and I’m paraphrasing): “The young filmmakers of Italy must cut themselves free from the umbilical chord of Neo-Realism”
I found that extremely interesting, because when I talk about Neo-Realism, I’m not as much interested in the obvious, recognizable style of Neo-Realism—the real locations, black-and-white images, and non-actors—which began in 1945 and ‘46, but rather I go back to the fact that Neo-Realism in 1945 was the voice of a nation. It was the voice of a people, at probably the worst time in their history, who were trying to redefine themselves and pull themselves together. Gomorra, I think, does go a long way in severing that chord. I think it takes bold steps to redefine that voice, and that nation, and the world at large for the twenty-first century."
Related: See what UK historian Andrew Roberts said about Gomorrah on our Buzz Board.