Nov 29, 2009

Gomorrah: a cinematic emetic

If you've ever found yourself nauseated by your own attraction to cinema's morally abhorrent mob figures like Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano, then Gomorrah--freshly out on DVD--is your emetic of choice. It starts with the setting, as Scott Tobias explains:
The first and most striking impressions in Gomorrah are the locations: Bombed-out apartment slums, infested by roving bands of criminals and connected through a vast network of bridges and secret tunnels. Prosperity isn’t spread around; whatever financial gains a law-abiding citizen might make are skimmed away in protection money and nothing goes back into the community. Gomorrah takes place in a world where decency can’t take root and we can only watch in horror as crime overwhelms society’s most vulnerable— women, children, law-abiding citizens, and the conscientious few who want to get out of the game.
It's an urban wasteland as apocalyptic as that depicted in Children of Men. And, as commentator robozot argues, the multiple narrative strands--which only loosely tie together--keep us from sympathizing too deeply with the bad guys.
Scott says the film lacks a magnetic central figure - but it doesn't lack one, it rejects one. Without exception (tell me if I'm wrong) gangster stories have somewhere at their centre a charismatic hero, who remains attractive regardless of their personal morality - which is pretty much essential in order to make these stories palatable to a large paying audience, who expect one by convention.

That's essentially an invitation to the viewer to fantasise about a mode of behaviour, regardless of any consequences in the story world, realistic or not. Gomorrah's aesthetic is aimed at stripping away the male romance trappings of US gangster films, and it works brilliantly.
Early in the film, one of the young protagonists says--loosely translated--"If this is what the bosses are like, we could rule this place." As the we in question are impulsive, cowardly, and foolishly immature, his assessment is spot on.

Gomorrah is not the best film of 2009, but it might be the most essential.

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