Monday, May 19, 2008

Matteo Garrone

In my opinion, Italian cinema has been in a bad way for some time now. But some small stirrings of interest may be present.

The Cannes Film Festival is now underway and a film directed by Matteo Garrone (in photo) is competing for the Palme d'Or. Garrone's latest effort has garnered much attention and was anxiously awaited, being based on the best-seller Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano, on the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra.

I can't say much about this work, not having seen it. But Garrone also featured the Camorra in the background in a lugubrious earlier film, The Embalmer. Set in the Naples area, it has an unctuous, ugly semi-dwarf taxidermist prey on a handsome but not overly-bright young man. The taxidermist is also used by the mob for his cutting and re-sewing abilities (they use corpses in coffins stuffed with drugs). While the love (love, hmmm?) triangle seems to be foremost in the film- a young lady inevitably sets her sights on the young man- the movie can also be seen as a study in the ways in which the mafia sets about to recruit young people, with no little success, as Short Stuff attempts to seduce Handsome Blockhead with the lifestyle that goes with mafia money. The Italy that is shown in the film is purposely and relentlessly ugly, like our semi-dwarf.

And in fact, the reviews I've read of Gomorrah say that Garrone does not romanticize the mob, and attacks it by showing how pathetic it is in all its supposed power. This would run counter to a long-term trend of showing organized crime as glamorous and compelling. Garrone's film, like Saviano's book, is ultimately more about educating the audience and fighting the Camorra than about entertainment- and is thus in the tradition of the cinema d'impegno of Francesco Rosi.

(The Embalmer is available through Netflix, and can be watched instantly free of charge on their site if you have a subscription of $8.99 or above).