Gomorra – of Power & Loyalty

The TV series Gomorra is simply perfect. It is well written, well shot and well acted. With its pithy style and occasional irony it plunges the viewer into the criminal microcosm of a city where different ethnicities, nationalities and languages mix. What Gomorra does best is to create a sense of place without indulging in ultra-realism or falling for a cliché portrait. The title comes from Roberto Saviano’s book Gomorra, a pun of biblical Gomorrah and Camorra (the Neapolitan ‘mafia’), which was adapted for the screen beautifully by Matteo Garrone (Gomorra, 2008). The film was harsh and slightly detached. The TV series adds a little empathy, but not sympathy. After all, in the best tradition of Italian westerns, there are no goodies and baddies. They are all bad, very bad.

Identity

Gomorra’s Naples is everything but Italian. The language and the music are Neapolitan, not Italian (yes, Italians watch it with subtitles), there are no tourists or pretty views. The landscape underlines the moral decay of the events with no sentimentality. No postcard pictures, but not even the lyricism of harsh reality. The local language and music is balanced with the different ethnicities of migrants and criminal gangs giving us a picture of a globalised Naples. In this way Gomorra avoids a static portrayal of culture and identity. The choice of leaving Italy out of the picture is a very interesting and convincing one. There’s a moment when the clan is in dispute with Nigerians over how much the Nigerians can keep of the profit from the sale of drugs. The local boss Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino) dismisses them (in non-politically correct language) as chimps. Some in the clan believe the Nigerian claim is unjustified because they are foreigners. However, Don Pietro goes beyond this and affirms his authority by forging relationships and finding agreement.

Power

It is primarily a story of power as a complex matrix of relationships. This is very rare in films and TV and, sadly, sometimes even in sociology! Power is too often understood as control and force, as an uneven relationship. Unlike in The Wire, where the gangs are organised hierarchically as a military force, in Gomorra power relies on an intricate web of relationships of loyalty and trust. It is not enough for the foot soldiers to go to prison, kill and die for the boss, they need to secure the right relationships. That’s why power is about persuasion. Persuasion is dependent on the character’s personality, intelligence and relationships with other characters. Ciro’s (Marco D’Amore) friendship with Genny (Salvio Esposito), the son of the boss allows him a privileged position, but it is through his shrewd maneuvring that he gains clout. Don Pietro Savastano shows he has power outside and inside the prison because he is a recognised authority, but also because he doesn’t shy away from useful partnerships. Genny, who starts as a spoilt and weak son, gains power by gaining independence from his parents and having influence over a group within the clan. Genny’s power rests on his relationships with the younger generation. This brings about a generational war, which Imma (Maria Pia Calzone), Genny’s mother, tries to resolve the conflict through Genny by appealing to clan loyalty.

Gender

Donna Imma carves a place for herself from which she emerges as the head the family. Yet, she comes to the fore to take the reins of the family out of loyalty for her husband. She wields power through persuasion and shrewdness. She does not act ‘like a man’ to be taken seriously nor does she rely on men as advisers. Her authority comes from her effectiveness. Gomorra is dominated by men, yet the women are hardly submissive. Even Genny’s girlfriend, who is seduced by his position and wealth, demands Genny stand up for himself. Genny, both weak and strong, is played with great subtlety by Salvio Esposito. His masculinity follows a traditional pattern, yet it is in response to his environment and ‘political’ situation rather than self-identity, which would reflect a more individualistic culture. In American cinema, the individual is at the centre and social characteristics, such as gender and socio-economic status, are often used to identify the person. In contrast, Gomorra sets firmly its characters in their social and personal relationships. Georg Simmel would be proud!

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This entry was posted in crime, family, gender, Gomorra, good & evil, loyalty, power, race/diversity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Gomorra – of Power & Loyalty

  1. Mattia Nicoletti says:

    Very interesting analysis, and as you wrote Power is the key to a tv series like Gomorra. There is another great scripted show about Power, House of Cards, that faces it in a different way. The role of Honor in Gomorra, bound to the roots of people grewing up in a world that is their present and thei future, in my opinion is the key. In House of Cards the Power is more about strategy, in Gomorra is more about blood and fear.

    • I’ve seen House of Cards (both the UK original and the US one) … I shall blog on it soon 🙂 yes, you’re right, it’s a lot more about strategy and one man’s quest for power.

  2. gigi1985 says:

    Gomorra don’t give us a picture of a multicultural city with a mix of languages(exept in one episode),all the actors are authentic neapolitans. The neapolitan dialect used in the series is not hard to understand for the majority of italians,it’s a light neapolitan(90% is understandable for italians). They are not trying to leave italy out of the picture and they are not trying to avoids a static portrayal of culture and identity, this is how many places in south italy are. The actors are all authentic neapolitans, and you can recognize the south italian forma mentis. In the fifth and sixth episode, we can see that camorra i not only a neapolitan problem but also an italian (and international problem).

    • I’m afraid you misunderstood a few things.
      1. Perhaps you didn’t notice that I’m Italian. I watched it with subtitles, of course I understood most of it, so? Many Italians won’t. The point is that the language is Neapolitan rather than Italian with some Neapolitan.
      2. This allows Gomorra to create a microcosm made of the language, music (there is no Italian or foreign music) etc. Italy is certainly left out of the picture to emphasise the local setting which is that of a globalised city. You don’t need to have ‘ethnic’ elements in all episodes! But there is so much! Conte lives in Barcelona, there are Russians, Nigerians … The point is that the local is also being transformed by wider forces.
      3. From a sociological point of view, ‘authenticity’ is constructed, it is not an inherent quality. As I wrote my PhD on authenticity, I should know 🙂
      4. This is a sociological analysis, I’m not interested in what the film-makers wanted to convey only what it conveys, the social and cultural elements, of which film-makers are rarely aware simply because they are not sociologists.

    • 1. to clarify (even more), the fact that Italy is left out of the picture is a strength not a weakness! All the choices made of not including any Italian music, any wider Italian references (politics, showbusiness etc.) stress that they wanted to give an image of a section of Naples (criminal, poor etc.). I would certainly dispute the idea of a southern ‘forma mentis’, Meapolitans are not Calabresi or Pugliesi etc. and there’s really nothing inherent and static in culture, something that is grasped by Gomorra (regardless of whether this was deliberate or not).
      2. You agree that Camorra is international, that means it’s part of globalised system.

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