Matteo Garrone | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Matteo Garrone

Q&A with the director of Gomorrah

Feb 17, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s 5 p.m. and Italian director Matteo Garrone is nearing the end of a full day of interviews to promote his film Gomorrah, a bold, sobering work that weaves together five stories of characters—young and old—whose lives are influenced by the Camorra, the multi-faceted crime system that operates pervasively in Naples and the surrounding Compania region of southern Italy. Although Garrone is gracious and flashes a polite smile, clearly he is exhausted. Beneath my single page of a dozen typed questions are twenty-plus pages of press notes. With apprehension, Garrone points to the stack of pages and asks, “All questions?”

Gomorrah is based on Roberto Saviano’s bestselling non-fiction book, which details the staggering extent of the Camorra’s business practices and investments, from drug dealing and weapons trafficking to waste disposal and high fashion. Garrone collaborated with Saviano and four additional writers on the film’s fictional screenplay, which depicts not only the violence that the organization is capable of inflicting, but also the violence endured by the people of the region, who live with limited means for economic advancement. In one scene, children splash around in a small pool on an outdoor patio of a rundown housing complex, while young men patrol the rooftops ready to engage in gunfire at a moment’s notice.

Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in May, Gomorrah has been praised for its kinship to the Italian neorealist classics of the postwar era. It’s difficult to imagine a less glamorous crime film being made in the States. InGomorrah, the mobsters lumber around in ill-fitting shorts and basketball jerseys with cities such as Cincinnati misspelled on them. Gomorrah’s absence from the shortlist of Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Language Film sparked reactions ranging from bewilderment to outrage in the media, but the film swept the major categories of the 2008 European Film Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Garrone.

When I show Garrone that all but one of my pages are press notes, he lets out a laugh of relief. Although it’s been six months since Gomorrah opened in Italy, and Garrone has spent the whole day discussing the film, he answers each question thoughtfully and appears to be still seeking meaning in it.

How did the collaboration between you and Mr. Saviano begin? Was it your idea to make a film based on his book?

The producer [Domenico Procacci] bought the rights. We started to work on this project before the book became a bestseller. Saviano was under protection, of course. It was just published for two weeks, so it was just the beginning. I saw how many things changed along the way, and also the life of Saviano has changed. We decided to make a movie complementary to the book, but different. The book is more journalistic, but I think the soul of the book is the same. The book is sort of reportage, and there are hundreds of stories there. We decided to do five stories, and so we reinvented the dramaturgy. We thought it would be interesting to develop these five stories and talk about five themes that would be local, about Naples, but also something metaphorical, more universal.

Did the Saviano collaboration begin through your producer?

Yeah, because Saviano knew that I used to work with this producer [Procacci], and so he wanted [Paolo] Sorrentino or me to make the movie about this book. That’s why he decided to give the rights to the producer, because the producer worked with Sorrentino and me. You know, Sorrentino’s the director of Il Divo, that was in Cannes. There were the two Italian movies that got prizes in Cannes. One was Gomorrah and one was Il Divo [Jury Prize]. Now both have five nominations for the European Awards.

How did the other four screenwriters become involved? Were they assigned to individual stories?

[Massimo] Gaudioso worked with me; this is the fourth movie we’ve made together. Ugo Chiti also worked with me. [Maurizio] Braucci is a very close friend of Saviano, and he knows that reality very well. Saviano, he couldn’t come every day. When he used to come to my house, he’d come with police. [Gianni] Di Gregorio was my assistant director, and I wanted to give him the chance to work on the screenplay. So, everybody brought something to the screenplay. But also, I worked on the preparation of the movie, and I talked with a lot of people, and the story of the people was important for me to verify, so many things in the screenplay were changed while I was shooting.

So it wasn’t a matter of one screenwriter being assigned to one of the stories?

No, no. Absolutely not.

You mentioned the police protection for Saviano. Given the popularity of the book, was there a lot of publicity surrounding the production of the film, and did that cause problems for you?

I was very worried. But, you know, the cinema is so powerful, so the people wanted to have us, because it was a movie project. They love cinema. So when we went on that territory, we found people that wanted to have us. Of course, the book became so popular. At the beginning, the book helped the movie when it was released in Italy in May. A lot of the audience went to see the movie because of the book. Then, the movie helped the book. After two years, the book is still on the top of the list of bestsellers in Italy. And not just in Italy. Now that it’s going to be released in Spain, the book is second on the list in Spain. In Italy, the book and the movie together make an explosive bomb, so the government had to do something, so they declared war on the Camorra. They brought the army to Naples. There were hundreds of arrests, and also Saviano’s situation always becomes more dangerous. Two weeks ago, they tried to kill him with a car bomb. It’s a very sad situation for him.

I had been wondering what kind of public comments Italian politicians had made about your film after it was released.

At Cannes, the minister of culture said that he liked it. I think it was very difficult to attack this movie because of the Cannes prize and because the critical response has been so good. So, nobody criticized it in public. I’m sure many politicians are against it, but nobody tells that to the public. Because, to show to the world a situation like Naples, it’s not good for tourists, and also because politicians had complicity with the system. You can’t make a war against the Camorra with the army from the outside. If you really want to do something against Camorra, you have to do something from inside, from the problems of unemployment, from the problems of child education. Nobody believes in the institution there; that’s why the Camorra is so powerful. They live in those houses, close to those people; they belong to the people. That’s the difference. So, you can’t solve the problems if you are outside. That’s what I want to show in the movie. It’s a story from the bottom, from people. It’s a story of how easy it is to be involved in the system. I tried to show the human conflicts of people that live in the conditions of the system. But, when you stay there, you start to think that the Camorra is so powerful because it’s a kind of complicity with the state. We don’t understand why they live like that. Also, you have the feeling that they are not aware of their condition. That’s very sad. You grow up there, in the jungle, you fight to survive, but you don’t know about the outside. So, you live, and you think— It’s like an ecosystem, and you think it’s like that everywhere, but it’s not. It’s very sad, because maybe you’re like Totò, the child. He goes inside the clan thinking that if you go in the clan, you’ll have a nice car or nice clothes. It’s very easy, but then you discover that it’s different from what you thought.

During the editing, did you watch cuts of the five stories individually?

I tried to, but we already wrote the screenplay with the idea of mixing the stories. After, I tried, but it didn’t work very well. But a point of reference for Gomorrah was a movie made by Roberto Rossellini, the great Italian director of neorealism. And the movie is PaisàPaisà is a wonderful movie, it’s a masterpiece shot in Italy during the second war, and it’s six stories shot in six different parts of Italy. And it’s linear. That was my point of reference.

Something that I think adds to the distinctiveness of your film is the location photography. There are some very unique sites in the film. I wanted to ask specifically about the housing structures. Are sites like this common?

For me, the location is very important, because it’s important to the feeling of the character. That building where Totò and Don Ciro are, it’s called Le Vele, it’s in Scampia. It’s a symbol of the drug dealers. It was almost empty because all the families moved. For me, it was perfect because it was like a studio. But it was also important because it gives the sense of claustrophobia. It’s important for the story of Totò. To go in the clan is like going in the army. It’s something with sentiment. It’s like the opposite of the story of the two young boys that play Scarface. They’re like Sancho Panza and Don Quixote modern. They are anarchy. It was important for that story that they were in open space, a sense of freedom, completely different. But their endings are very similar. The locations were very important to tell us about the characters. So Le Vele was like a Blade Runnerlocation, incredible. This area is one of the most famous for drug dealers in Europe. When we shot close to the set, there were drug dealers. Sometimes the drug dealers would come and say whether a scene was good or not.

One of my favorite shots in the film is when Pasquale, the tailor, comes home to his wife and baby sleeping on the bed.

Yeah, that’s my— one of my favorite scenes.

It’s a scene that elicits sympathy, and I wanted to know if you were ever concerned about audience sympathy, whether viewers would connect with the characters and care about their outcomes.

For me, it was important that the audience could understand their conflicts, their decisions, followed from inside. It was important that the audience could live the emotion for two hours. There are no heroes. I didn’t want to make them friendly, but human. So, of course, there are those who sympathize more with the tailor, who sympathize more with the two who play Tony Montana, or Totò. It depends on the audience, but for me, it’s important when you write or make a movie to create a relationship with the character. For me, it was very important to be close to them and not judge them. I don’t want to say who is good and who is bad. I want to follow them and show the consequences of their choices. And from the consequences of their choices, probably you can have a moral or ethical answer.

Early in the film, we see a group of black men involved in the drug trade. These are immigrants?

Yeah, that’s incredible because in that area, there are a lot of Africans. Some work on the field, and some are drug dealers. Just two or three weeks ago, the clan of that area killed six Africans, and the government started to say, “We will make war against the Camorra with the army,” you know. That location was true.

Were all the primary characters cast with professional actors?

Most of the actors are from theater. My father is a theater critic, so I often used to go to the theater. Some I found on the territory. For me, it was a great opportunity, because I had actors who worked in theater but also people who lived in that territory. So they could have a kind of marriage between person and character. For instance, the two young boys, Totò and Simone, the kids. You remember the scene where they are friends, and one is going in one clan, and the other—? They say bye and go different ways. For me, that was another important scene. I invented that scene on the set. It was not in the screenplay. They are actors but they know very well what they’re talking about. It’s not just acting; it’s something more mixed.

You briefly mentioned Cannes. How was your experience at Cannes winning the Grand Prix?

It was incredible because it was the first time in competition for me. The most important thing when you enter your movie in a festival is the opportunity for the movie to be bought by many countries. That’s why Cannes is the most important festival in the world. So, after the prize, we sold the movie to many, many countries. And of course, the gratification for me and all the people that worked on this project. I’ve done this movie with the help of many people, and cinema is a collaborative art, and it’s important to share with all the other people who made the journey with you. It’s a complicated movie, five movies shot in a very dangerous situation, in places where there is a murder every day by Camorra. So you feel like you’re in a war. It’s amazing, but you get used to it. I was very worried about the idea of going to a place where clans kill each other. But when you’re inside, you get used to it. So, everything became normal. That’s the most dangerous thing, and also it was tragic. People that live there, when I say that they are not aware of their condition, it means that they get used to it.



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