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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Gomorrah (review)

Brutal and unrelenting, this documentary-style expose of the Camorra — the Naples equivalent of the Sicilian mafia — burns away all hints of Hollywood glamour and leaves in its place a depressingly grim portrayal of entrenched corruption as not just merely endemic to Italian (and international) business and culture, but perhaps even essential as a wheel-greasing mechanism. Director Matteo Garrone — working from a nonfiction book by journalist Roberto Saviano that garnered the writer death threats from the Camorra — unsentimentally throws us into five different stories of the murderous shadow the organization casts over the lives of ordinary people, from youngsters who want in because, ironically, they’ve bought into the Scarface sheen to honest businessfolk who cannot escape the Camorra’s grasp, and spares us none of the violence, greed, recklessness, or soullessness of these people for whom “criminal” seems too kind a term. Italy’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the most recent Academy Awards and winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes in 2008, this is a film for only the most passionate of film fans. There is nothing redemptive here, nothing uplifting or hopeful, and it will try the indulgence of even the most generous seeker of stories with its refusal to pander to our instinct for satisfying narrative. It’s not that there aren’t rewards here, but they are cold and bleak.

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watch at home

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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