In the endless catalog of streaming platforms it is easy to overlook “Gomorrah”, in this case “HBO”: an Italian production about gangsters, drug trafficking and the slums of Naples. One more? That’s not it.
Almost exclusively spoken in the Neapolitan dialect, which is imperceptible even to compatriots from other Italian regions, “Gomorrah” retains an aura of authenticity that can hardly be found in other series of this type. It is a faithful representation of the alien dimension of reality mafia men live in, where life is worth very little, money is everything, and betrayal can come from anywhere. The portrait of a life full of excess, blood and paranoia.
Its origins go back to the book of the same name written by Roberto Saviano, an investigative journalist who plunged into the world of the Camorra – the Neapolitan Mafia organization – and survived to reveal everything in his works and chronicles. Nobody except those involved knows the everyday life of the Neapolitan criminal underworld better than Saviano, and the film “Gomorrah”, which received a Golden Globe nomination in the category Best Foreign Film, emerged from the strange stories for the first time in 2008.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Saviano’s reports made it onto television, in a story in which the journalist appears as an executive producer. With four seasons already available, he’s escaped the radar of many, won little or no international awards, but none of those absences reflect the quality he’s hiding: he’s probably one of the best television portraits in the world of the Mafia measuring itself comfortable with the best American productions.
“Gomorrah” tells more than just the story of its main characters – which have been carefully constructed and developed, episode by episode – “Gomorrah” looks like a documentary. Most of the scenes are preceded by settings that reveal the scenarios of an Italy beyond postcards: gloomy, dirty, poor, violent and cruel.
In the center of Gomorrah are the Velas de Scampia, the modernist towers built in the 1960s and 1970s by the architect Franz Di Salvio under the sign of the vivenzminimum, i.e. the subsistence level, in which the furnishings were reduced to an indispensable minimum. The goal, however, was to create a green, sociable, pleasant and clean neighborhood. Then it hit reality.
Plans were forgotten. As Saviano recalls, green spaces were never built. Schools, churches, and worship services were never born nearby either. The terrible earthquake of 1980 displaced thousands of Neapolitans who sought refuge there, even in unfinished apartments. They became outlaws, excluded from Naples, where even the members of the Camorra were viewed by the Neapolitans in the center as “the little monkeys”.
Don Pietro Savastano owns everything
The supposedly modernist architecture eventually turned out to be perfect for housing criminal activity: inaccessible towers, narrow and hanging corridors that gave access to small staircases that led to each of the houses.
This is exactly what the royal gangster Aniello La Monica realized when he decided to make the Velas de Scampia his stronghold. First came the tobacco trade, then tons of heroin. And unlike the streets of Naples, where the police unexpectedly intruded, drug dealers felt safe on the balconies of Scampia. It quickly became the most dangerous neighborhood in Italy, Europe and one of the most violent in the world.
This is the real context. Then in the series we will get acquainted with the characters collecting features of these real characters who shaped four decades of crime in Naples. Above all Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino), the strong man who controls the area around Naples, namely Secondigliano and Scampia. At his side is his son Gennaro Savastano (Salvatore Esposito), a young man with no courage to accept the job – and his friend and mentor, the gangster Ciro di Marzio (Marco D’Amore).
Unlike many series and films in the genre, families are just accessories. “Gomorrah” doesn’t waste a lot of time with them: the focus is on the business, the way in which it shapes the life and personality of each of these men and women, and not the family relationships.
The scenarios are terrifyingly real
With a realism that rivals “The Wire”, “Gomorrah” always manages to find the right rhythm without falling into boredom or a simple sequence of violent action scenes – which it does in large doses and always in considerable numbers of mortal sacrifices. This also explains the number of new characters needed per season.
Everything that can be seen there happens – or has happened earlier since the Towers began being demolished in 2020 – in real life: the drug outlets that so many wars are fought over, the retail chains, the facilities that make it possible to sell that Wicket and the escape of human traffickers. Terrifyingly real accounts from locals and Saviano finding parallels in the series.
There are four seasons – and with a fifth and final in 2021 expected from a spin-off film, “L’Immortale” – of pure joy, between tension and tension and the terrifying scenarios of the labyrinthine corridors of Scampia and the Dark kitsch decorations from the houses of the gangsters, adorned with religious statues, chairs with gold frames and many plate dogs.
And it wouldn’t be a good crime series without some skillfully executed and rarely predictable twists and turns. Despite some jumps in the characterization – the most glaring case is that of Gennaro Savastano, but this discussion could not be conducted without spoilers – “Gomorrah” is absolutely unmistakable for every fan of the genre.