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FILM: An Apocalyptic, Hopeless Den of Iniquity

Miren Gutierrez and Aldo Ciummo*

ROME, May 27 2008 (IPS) - The room is packed, the film ends with pounding music, and the word “Gomorra” is shown in an uncomfortable fuchsia over black. The audience applauds and leaves quietly while the music continues to hammer home the message.

A scene from "Gomorra". Credit:

A scene from "Gomorra". Credit:

“Gomorra” ­­ an inside look at Naples’ notorious Camorra gang ­­ has won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and the book of the same title on which it is based has been translated into dozens of languages, and sold millions of copies. But for Italians, it is not mere entertainment.

“We’ve known this to be true already,” said Eliana Villa, as she left the theatre. “But this movie has showed us the reality in an unprocessed, detailed way.”

“It is impossible to be optimistic, but we need to fight this situation,” added audience member Lidia Marzoli.

The publication of the book in 2006 was followed by death threats against its author, Roberto Saviano, who relates the first-person account of a young man learning the ropes of illegal toxic waste disposal.

“I am constantly escorted by police, I have to move all the time… I don’t lead a normal life anymore,” Aviano told the daily La Repubblica last year.

From underworld warfare to the Camorra’s control of the building industry, arms and drug trafficking, haute couture manufacturing, and even the handling of toxic waste, Saviano depicts a shocking portrait of a crime syndicate that has killed 3,600 people in the last 30 years, according to different accounts, including that of former prosecutor Gen. Pier Luigi Vigna.

Camorra is a criminal organisation that operates in the region of Campania and the city of Naples. Compared to its counterparts elsewhere in Italy – for example, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria or the Sicilian Cosa Nostra’s pyramidal structure – it has become more involved in piracy and is made up of many clans that often fight each other.

A clash between the Misso and the Secondigliano clans in 2006, for example, left 15 people dead and many injured.

“Gomorra” has been released in a country obsessed by illegal immigration, neck-deep in economic stagnation and political decline. Italy’s economy grew at an anaemic 0.4 percent in the first quarter of the year; Alitalia, the national airline, is debt-laden and losing a million dollars a day; and Naples is a city whose streets are engulfed by uncollected and untreated garbage, another mafia-related problem.

The Camorra transports refuse from northern Europe at discount prices and dumps it illegally around Naples, a problem shown in detail in “Gomorra”. But it also sabotages the municipal garbage trucks paid for by Neapolitan taxpayers in order to transport the local rubbish itself, at a profit. The garbage company gave up doing its job before Christmas and the rubbish started to pile up.

In Naples there is a sense of collective dread. Only a few days ago, a supposed attempted abduction of a child by a young gypsy woman prompted vigilante attacks on camps, one of which was set on fire after its inhabitants were removed by the authorities.

“The book depicts really well the cultural breeding ground in Naples suburbs; it gives the reader a deep understanding of the psychological situation of the people living here,” “Don” Tonino Pugliese, an activist priest living in Naples, told IPS in a telephone interview.

“It also gives a new perspective of the Camorra, a perspective removed from old images. It talks about an organisation with national and international businesses, with a military arm controlling this southern region,” he added.

Pugliese works with “Libera Antimafia”, an association that works with children and tries to teach a culture of legality, solidarity and participation, in his words.

“I am not able to imagine its immediate effects, but ‘Gomorra’ has become a necessary reference in any analysis about Naples’s problems,” he concluded.

The filmmaker, Matteo Garrone, decided to turn the book into a movie, choosing to focus on five characters whose paths crossed with the Camorra. He shot it secretly in Naples, mostly with amateur actors, in poor neighbourhoods, including the Camorra stronghold of Scampia.

“It’s an apocalyptic, hopeless film,” Garrone told the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera. “Don’t think of it as a classic expose film pitting good against evil…because in reality things are more complicated and the boundaries are less clear.”

*Miren Gutierrez is IPS Editor in Chief.

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