26 December 2009

film (DVD) recommendation: Gomorrah

Put this one in your netflix cue: Gomorrah by director Matteo Garrone. Beautiful. If one can say that about a film that deals with such brutal, violent subject matter. Set in Naples. Examines the Camorra--the powerful crime family in that area. Here's an excerpt from a reviewer more skilled:

While other filmmakers certainly would have trumped up any of these scenarios for prime impact in the hopes that critics would call it “visceral” (imagine the hectic brain-fart Guy Ritchie would have made out of it all), Garrone is hardly interested in the seductive spell gangland warfare might cast. Instead, this is a way of life, as mundane and workaday as farming. The filmmaker’s parched-land visuals heighten this sense of Campania as a vast, horizon-less nowhere; foreground movement is kept tight and close, while often everything else is out of focus. It’s all immediate action—drug deals, sudden gunshots, tense altercations—and fuck consequence; there is no out there, no tomorrow.

Garrone and cinematographer Marco Onorato’s camera apes point of view, but it looks on from a remote pair of deadened eyes. This makes for constant, and necessary, spectator discomfort: we’re used to seeing some of these basic mafia tropes played out in other films, but here they happen unexpectedly, even when they move upon a predictable narrative track. Marco and Ciro’s story makes for the queasiest viewing, since, frighteningly they’re the closest thing many will have to audience surrogates: they may be unmoored, witless, vile, and remorseless, but they’re also the only ones on screen looking for a narrative, and their context for violence comes from the same places as does ours: the movies. We’re thus implicated. Through Marco (Marco Macor), with his stout handsomeness and smoky voice (he sounds thirty years older, like Michael V. Gazzo in “The Godfather Part II”), and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), with his emaciated storklike features, Garrone transforms “Gomorrah” from a particularly vile nature documentary into an invigorating treatise on film-watching.

[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]

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