by evseymour

I enjoy watching foreign films and have little problem with sub-titles. True, if the film is French or German, my ability to follow the action and speech is a bit more seamless than if I’m watching in other languages. I don’t have a single Danish word in my vocabulary, yet I found ‘The Killing’ easy peasy. Likewise, ‘The Raid’ (Malay).

Having heard a fair amount about ‘Gomorrah’, we decided to give it a crack last weekend. To get us in the mood, we watched ‘Romanzo Criminale’. Now I don’t know whether it’s me, but it took me a while to keep up with the action. To my English ears, it appears that Italians cram a lot of words into a single sentence. (I’d be happy to hear from Italian mates on the subject). Did it detract from my enjoyment? Not a bit of it. By the time, I’d got past the first ten minutes I was flying.

Critics have compared ‘Romanzo’ to Goodfellas. For this reason I was expecting more brutality with the violence. The fact that it was measured – sure, people get gunned down, but there were no gut-wrenching scenes of torture or smashing up with baseball bats – made it more watchable because there were no distractions. In essence the film is a tale of three friends, inseparable as kids, and committed to each other as adults until, in true Italian fashion, vendettas are made and scores settled. The big controlling idea and moral of the tale is stark and bleak: crime doesn’t pay.

So feeling molto bene, we watched the first eight episodes of the first series of ‘Gomorrah’.   Gritty and intense, the action revolves around the Savastano clan who are involved in a turf war with another gang, with predictable results.

Set in Naples, with its warren of high-rise buildings in which gang members slog it out with each other, I was reminded of Gerald Seymour’s superb book ‘The Collaborator’. Seymour (no relation) gets it so right that I wondered whether he’d had an ‘escorted’ trip.

As with so much Italian drama ‘Gomorrah’ is all about characterisation and the ‘family’. Pietro Savastano, played by Fortunato Cerlino has cornered the market for looking eternally pissed off. His overweight son has an aversion to killing, which isn’t good when you’re supposed to be the don’s heir apparent, (he’s soon forced to overcome his reluctance) and the don’s sexy wife and ‘Mama’ would give Lucrezia Borgia a run for her money. The standout character is Ciro, (Marco D’Amore) a foot soldier caught in an ever increasingly downward spiral of violence.   When Savastano gives in to paranoia and sacrifices many of his own men, including Ciro’s adoptive father, simply to prove who is in control of the streets, Ciro is forced to question where his real loyalties lie. What a beautiful dilemma.

So far, so bene, but the big change of direction in episode nine made me screech to a shuddering halt. Ciro’s actions (I’ll leave you to find out what) might be in keeping with a gangster lifestyle, and I love fatally flawed characters, yet Ciro’s behaviour is so grotesque it makes him unappealing. As the saying goes, the jury is still out and, perhaps episodes 10-12 will bring me back onside…