by Jef Burnham
In limited release February 13, 2009.
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Based on Roberto Saviano’s celebrated work of investigative writing on the Neapolitan mafia family, the Camorra, Gamorrah has received numerous awards and nominations at international film festivals, including a nomination at the Golden Globes and receiving the Grand Prix at Cannes. Despite the accolades, I found Gamorrah to be surprisingly lackluster.
The film is composed of five intermingling storylines about individuals trying to solidify a future within the mafia. The loose structure and documentary style provide for a seemingly realistic vision of life in the Camorra-run slums around Naples. The result is a mafia story devoid of the American tendency to glorify mafia activities that has been brewing for decades. Here, being a soldier in the mafia is more akin to being in your typical street gang than part of a “family”— children and teenagers are recruited without a single conscientious thought to perform the most dangerous of tasks. Though they indeed deal heavily in drugs, the Camorra is hardly the cocaine empire run by gangster icon, Tony Montana of Brian De Palma’s Scarface. They in fact focus much of their efforts on toxic waste disposal and the international garment industry.
The film’s running time is 135 minutes, leaving about a half hour to develop each of the individual stories. However, in order to paint an accurate portrait of the Camorra, the filmmakers focused much of the time on the details of the mafia’s business practices rather than the trials of the individual characters. As such, a few of the stories are never properly fleshed out.
The story of Marco and Ciro is perhaps the best developed of the five. Marco and Ciro are two friends who dream of taking control of their neighborhood from the ruling hoods, inspired by their hero Tony Montana. The first time we see the two, they are reenacting the final scene of Scarface in an abandoned building (Marco is perpetually seen wearing Acapulco shirts). Also emotionally resonant, if not as thoroughly developed, is the story of Pasquale the tailor. Pasquale trains the garment workers of the Camorra’s opposing Chinese firm in order to provide for his family in light of the increasingly modest salary he receives from the mafia firm.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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