“Facebook?” scoffs an Italian mobster at the start of Gomorrah, Sky Atlantic’s new TV series. He and a fellow gang member are discussing his daughter. “What does she even write on there?” “I don’t know,” says her father. “I’ll smash her computer,” he decides. That’ll put an end to this social media business.
It’s a fantastic opening to the show, not least because Facebook is the only word we recognise – this is Sky’s first foreign language show. Based on Robert Saviano’s novel of the same name, it follows the day-to-day entanglements of the Camorra, aka. the Neapolitan mafia. It inspired a similar film (also of the same name), which shocked with its banal, matter-of-fact depiction of violence and corruption at all levels of society. This new TV series expands that into a fully-fledged drama – but loses none of Saviano’s immediacy. Gomorra the film was released six years ago, but the Camorra are still in business.
Business is booming all over the place, we soon discover, with shootouts and explosions between rival gangs occurring with an almost mundane frequency. Heir to the throne Genny (Salvatore Esposito) may be keen to get revenge on the cocaine traffickers invading their turf, but Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino) is far more wary. Played with an almost doctor-like calm by Cerlino, the show’s patriarch is as ruthless as he is clever. It comes as no surprise that he has an equally imperious wife (Maria Pia Calzone) and a younger hoodlum rising through the ranks with a smarter head on his shoulders than his son. That’s Ciro (Marco d’Amore), our lead.
The genre pieces are all clearly put in in place by showrunner Stefano Sollima, but it’s how their presented that mark Gomorrah out from the Italian-American crowd. Guns, cars and women are all present, but never in an attractive way. A sudden spray of bullets in a coffee shop whizz past our ears as the camera slides on the floor underneath the table. People don’t walk away in slow motion from exploding vehicles. Most of the time, they don’t walk away at all. This is gangster without the gloss.
That is not to say that Gomorrah is uneasy on the eye. Sollima, who directs half the episodes in te series and is also responsible for the art direction, shoots events with a touch of class, an eye for linear streets stretching out ahead of our protagonist – and an ear for everyday chatter between goons.
The episodic nature of the 2008 feature suggested that Saviano’s first-hand account of Italy’s underbelly would be well suited to a series. There are already clear differences, made to give us someone to root for – with a glimpse of his daughter to soften Ciro’s tough exterior, Marco d’Amore is more than up to the likeable task – but others are unintentional, as run-down, post-recession council estates loom in the grimy background. The mention of Facebook puts us firmly in 2014, but the word also stands out because it’s the only one the gangsters don’t recognise. Italy may have changed, but some things stay the same. And that blunt truth is riveting to watch.
Gomorrah Season 1 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Instant Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription, and on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Emanuela Scarpa