Friday, April 10, 2009


"Gomorrah" is not "The Godfather."

The distinction is important because this new film by Italian director, Matteo Garrone, has been called by some reviewers "the best crime movie" since that iconic Coppola masterpiece.

It is also important because this movie begins with the headline, "Martin Scorsese presents," an irony that becomes increasingly evident as the film ever so slowly unspools.

The first two Godfather movies are among the two greatest movies ever made. Year after year, they top everyone's all-time favorite lists, including my own (after "Lawrence of Arabia," of course!)

As they appear almost daily it seems on Peachtree TV or the so-called Arts & Entertainment channel, I find myself watching long sequences, repeating the dialogue now by rote.

"Don't you know, Kay, that I would never let you take my children."

"But I didn't know until now that it was Barzini all along."

But here is the distinction.

These two great films and anything by Scorsese, good and horribly bad, (Good to Great: "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver," "The King of Comedy." Bad to Appalling: "Goodfellas," "Casino," "The Departed."), like all Hollywood films are romances.

The moment a Marlon or a Jack or a Leo or a Matt appear in the credits we are dealing with fantasy. That doesn't make it bad or dismissible, but completely an artifact.

Look at the spectacular choices by costume and set designers in"The Godfather." Look at the furniture, the color and exposure for the film stock; of course, the music.

These are glorious stories brilliantly told.

But never forget what they are. Romances. Heroic iconic movie stars play charismatic, fascinating mobsters who love their children and their gangs.

Now, comes this bleak, relentless film, "Gomorrah," about the criminals of modern-day southern Italy, Naples, in particular. It "stars" no one.

This is stripped-down, unglamorous, often painful movie-making. It is more docu-drama than crime movie.

Everybody is poor and stupid.

Everybody is armed.

Everybody lives in a government built tenement slum.

The aerial establishing shots of the apartment complex are themselves condemnation of shameful public policy. You look at this place and ask yourself, "How else could people be expected to live in this rat maze?"

The key figures in this sordid affair are children, boys with guns and boys with bad ambitions.

The movie begins and ends with acts of violence. In between there are long stretches of tension and boredom and more violence. After a while, the director succeeds in making you feel completely trapped in this universe of despair.

This is not a date movie, kids.

At the end, the script comes on the screen detailing the latest numbers of people killed by the Camorra, the local Mafiosa.

You might have been watching something about tribal warfare in a besieged African Nation, in Darfur.

You might have been watching something about the Lower Mainland.

Whatever it is, it is not your traditional amusement with guns. It is often difficult to behold, but it is a healthy reminder, even in the midst of Easter and Passover, that ugliness exists not only in the hearts of some people, but also in systems and communities where attention is not paid.