Helmer's gritty 'Gomorrah' won Cannes' Grand Prix

Matteo Garrone’s distinctive eye for the aesthetic aspects of moviemaking combined with a drive to reveal the dark side of society, often ironically and always infused with his personal observations, is strikingly evident, going back to his first short, “Silhouette,” about Nigerian prostitutes plying their trade on Rome’s outskirts.

A Rome native, Garrone grew up around the arts. His father is a theater critic, his mother a photographer. After attending art school, he spent his early years playing tennis semiprofessionally, painting and running a bar before turning to film. His cinematic imagination was triggered by the Nigerian prostitutes who caught his eye while riding his motorcycle.

“Silhouette” won the Sacher talent showcase established by Nanni Moretti, prompting Garrone to expand it into a feature-length triptych about immigrants in the Italian capital, titled “Terra di mezzo,” which took the jury nod at the Turin fest. Next came

“Ospiti,” a tender portrayal of two young Albanian immigrants working in Rome’s posh Parioli hood, where Garrone grew up. It made the cut for Venice.

Gomorrah” is Garrone’s third feature since making the leap from self-produced, no-budget pics seen almost exclusively at fests to bigger feature films shepherded by his now regular producer, Domenico Procacci.

Garrone’s involvement on “Gomorrah” began when he read journo Roberto Saviano’s passionate eponymous expose of the Neapolitan mob. It was also sparked, he says, by “my surprise when I came in contact with a reality that had very different characters from those I was used to seeing in Mafia movies.”

“Even from a visual standpoint, it gave me the opportunity to rewrite a whole imaginary world tied to the idea of criminals in the movies,” Garrone adds.

It scooped the Cannes Grand Prize last year and was hailed as the most realistic Mafia movie ever made.

Says Procacci: “When I bought the rights to ‘Gomorrah,’ I knew I needed a real auteur who could handle the material. It was clear from his first films that Matteo had great talent. He has great taste in framing shots and at the same time he doesn’t stray from his thematic and narrative concerns.”

As for his next project, Garrone would like to make a comedy, he says. But given his creative inclination so far, “you never know, it may turn out to be very dark and dramatic.”

Age: 40

Home base: Rome, Italy

Inspired by: “So many directors have been influential and formative for me that it’s impossible to name any names, but for ‘Gomorrah,’ my reference point was Roberto Rossellini’s ‘Paisa.'”

Rep: Agents: Jeff Berg and Nathan Ross at ICM

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