Welcome to Italy, Naples to be exact. Only these intimidating inner-city destinations won’t be on any tourist trail. If you end up in these locations you holiday stroll has taken the worst of wrong turns. Welcome to Gomorrah.
Gomorrah is based on the non-fiction investigative book — 2006’s Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano, a journalist who got such a close and detailed look at Naples mafia he is now living in hiding. Gomorrah is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Italian network Sky Italia, far outstripping American imports such as Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards. There’s a strong familial resemblance to The Wire, as this captivating Italian series is also an immersive look at street-level crime, gang organisation and shocking scenes of unflinching violence.
Naples is a colorful city but those colours are washed-out neon, like looking at life through a fishbowl. In similar way to Braquo this is firmly set in the grimy underbelly of the city, filled with leather jacket wearing hard men. This is the territory of the mafia; running drugs, buying crooked cops and dishing out violence to all who cross them. And we meet them at a paranoid time – there’s problems with extra cops, neighbourhood watch and journalists crawling around the blocks. Everything is changing.
At it’s heart Gomorrah is a family saga. The Don is Pietro Savastano (played by Fortunato Cerlino) and he’s been in charge for 20 years. His steely wife Imma (Maria Pia Calzone) has no plausible deniability as she’s in on all the business meetings – very progressive for a family business such as this. It’s a good job he has support from someone as his useless son Genny( Salvatore Esposito) is lazy, dull and uninterested in the lessons his Dad needs to teach him. He’s a kid grown soft and fat with privilege who hasn’t had to fight for anything, like a less pleasant version of Family Guy’s Chris Griffin. Ciro (Marco D’Amore) is the son Pietro wishes he’d had; a shaven headed hard man who would give Ross Kemp a run for his money, who quickly earns the bad-ass nickname Immortal. Now that’s someone born to be a crime lord. The Savastano family live in Trump-esque mansion in the middle of the city, cheek by jowl with their addict customers. They’re overlooked by poor flats on all sides. To me this is really strange. Maybe they think they’re still normal people? Their yard seems to be below ground too, and the oppressive city is weighing down on them, on everyone.
Don Pietro’s gang are at with another mob boss Comte after a nasty arson attack that sets the tone of the show – we first see Ciro setting fire to Comte’s Mum’s house with them both inside. Despite what previous mob films have taught us, in reality family members are attractive soft targets. Also, there’s no day of rest even in Catholic Italy – you can and will get shot on a Sunday. This realisiation that there’s no honour among thieves is exactly what Saviano is trying show us – puncturing the romantic fantasy of The Godfather. These are not moral people in any way at all.
Sadly neither side in this street war seem particularly intelligent. The escalating violence is fueled by passion, the need to be seen to act and quickly, and they’re dead set on revenge. It’s all running around guns blazing with no thought to consequences – Leeroy Jenkins tactics. You’d expect more from this odd Cappo – such a grey looking dull ordinary man. If he’s not a thug or a thinker, who is he? With his ongoing quest for the perfect sofa is he just a middle-aged man looking for a comfortable retirement?
No such luck if Genny is the heir apparent. His spoilt son is still having strops in his 20s. He displays zero respect, no work ethic, and frequently gets into trouble expecting his family to bail him out time and again. So who is really next in line then? Genny because of family ties or Ciro because of aptitude and graft? Genny clearly hasn’t the balls for the top job. It looks like Daddy wants the best of both worlds and expects Ciro to act as a mentor to this dweeb. Will Ciro suck it up and do what he’s told or does he have loftier ambitions?
And where has Pietro lost his way? He’s displays a fatherly figure when he’s unexpectedly imprisoned and does his best to take good care of his cell mates. The Italian system seems to foster a powerful sense of us versus them – surely prisoners are less trouble if they’re kept in smaller cells with fewer chances to collude and cause trouble. Prison life does look more humane in Italy as the prisoners are able to cook, eat and sit together like a family. But while Pietro makes friends he make enemies just as easily. The tit-for-tat feud with the warden means the stakes in prison get higher and higher just so he can get what he wants which is of course keeping his influence strong in the outside world. You get a strong sense that despite appearances he’s willing to do anything.
With the Don out of the picture the focus shifts to those left behind. Will Genny and Ciro take over in partnership. Could it be that straightforward when there’s such big personalities navigating turbulent times? And have we overlooked Lady Imma, surely just as ruthless and experienced as her husband. Is she the real power behind the throne?
Well I should have been on this years ago, given that Series 3 is out now. The happy news for those of us late to the party is that there’s loads to watch. It’s absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray and despite its weighty subject matter and layers of complexity it’s supremely bingeable. I can feel myself being drawn into this saga like curling up with a really good book. Unremitting realism and Italian hip hop has never been this cool.
‘GOMORRAH – THE SERIES’ SEASON 3 IS OUT NOW ONDVD & BLU-RAY – MONDAY 12 MARCH 12
‘GOMORRAH – THE SERIES’ SEASON 1-3 ON DVD & BLU-RAY
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