From the incendiary opening scene in a tanning salon, it is clear that Director Matteo Garrone has not made your father's gangster film. iGomorrah/i immerses audiences in the world of organized crime in Naples, Italy with a style that is distinctly 21st century. It's based on the best-selling book by Roberto Saviano, who detailed the inner workings of the Camorra (the oldest and most powerful crime syndicate in Italy) so revealingly that he was placed under permanent protective care by the Italian government.
This Mafia group infiltrates a plethora of businesses in Italy, from garbage dumping to drug dealing to clothing to food, and its ties are so widespread and multi-faceted that the police cannot track anything down to one source. Garrone takes the non-fictional nature of his source material to heart, resulting in a powerful film that feels more like an unnerving documentary than a traditional narrative drama.
iGomorrah/i follows five interweaving storylines of seven characters whose lives become tied to the Camorra. There's the young Toto, a 13-year-old grocery delivery boy who picks up a drug dealer's weapon at the scene of a crime gone awry. When he goes to return it, he is taken in and initiated by the gang in a tense scene in which he must be shot in the chest while wearing a bulletproof vest. His tale is a devastating study of the desensitizing of youth to mob culture and violence in the harsh realities of the modern world.
Played with haunting stoicism by Salvatore Abruzzese, Toto is a character at once completely real and totally unrecognizable; he is the last threads of innocence and the first seeds of evil in a gray area that cannot be measured.
There is Don Ciro, a nervous middleman who is content in his nonviolent position of delivering money to and from clan members, but soon finds himself caught in the web of warring families who need more from him than simple financial work.
There is Franco, the corrupt owner of a toxic waste management company, and his young apprentice Roberto, who begins using a new dumping site that results in drastic consequences.
There is Pasquale, a humble tailor of designer dresses who starts making some extra money by teaching the tricks of the trade to Chinese garment workers. Because the Chinese are in competition with Camorra-run companies, Pasquale must be escorted to and from the sessions in the trunk of a car, an especially dangerous operation.
Lastly, there are Marco and Ciro, two teenage loners whose infatuation with glorified gangsters like those in Scarface leads them to steal weapons that they saw Camorra members hiding. They scamper around on the beach in their underwear firing the weapons as their personal toys, eerily embodying both giddiness of youth and violent adult aggression. Together, they share the intimate moments of their deep friendship as well as the dark possibilities of the path they choose to take.
Garrone's essentially invisible direction carries the film effortlessly from one scene to the next. The camera becomes an omniscient narrator that never allows style to override substance.
As bleak and, inevitably, hopeless as it may be, iGomorrah/i is the kind of film that could go on forever without tiring the audience.
The audience is so invested in the reality of the world Garrone creates, yet we are so thankful to be in the safe haven of a movie theatre where we can come out unscathed from the many harrowing scenes.
It's genuinely surprising that iGomorrah/i was not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; it's one of the most memorable and effective films of the year.