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Italian mafia films trigger angst

'Gomorrah' reinvents gangster genre

ROME Mafia-themed movies are making news in Italy, but politicos aren’t so happy about the image of the country they’re presenting to the world.

Since winning the Cannes Grand Prix, “Gomorrah,” which IFC Films will be releasing in the U.S., is being hailed as a reinvention of the genre that spawned “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos.”

Also delving into the subject is “Il Divo,” which depicts a purported “honor kiss” between Italo elder statesman Giulio Andreotti and a Cosa Nostra Don, and opened in the No. 3 slot at the Italian B.O. after its Cannes screening.

Reactions in Italy to the country’s Cannes double whammy range from an ecstatic film community to an irate ruling political class.

“We can’t just keep quiet about the fact that through Cannes we are exporting around the world the idea that Italy is governed by men in cahoots with the Mafia,” complains MP Gabriella Carlucci, a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative bloc.

Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” is a slice-of-life look inside Naples’ notorious Camorra syndicate, from the point of view of a 13-year-old mob foot-soldier.

Box office turnout has been massive for “Gomorrah,” which has pulled more than $10 million in three weeks, just as dozens of Camorra mobsters were arrested in raids amid calls to send in the army to eradicate the mob plague.

Based on a widely translated bestselling expose of the Camorra by journo Roberto Saviano, who now lives under police protection, Garrone’s drama was shot in the innermost depths of Camorra territory, amid usually impenetrable housing projects crawling with junkies and the planet’s highest density of dope dealers.

Garrone surprisingly was given access to the underbelly of this criminal beast, which by Saviano’s count rakes in $233 billion yearly and has killed some 3,600 people since 1979 — more than have been slain by the Sicilian Mafia, the Irish Republican Army or the Basque separatist group ETA.

“I didn’t have any problems with the Camorra, even though it was like shooting in a war zone: the average was one dead every three days,” Garrone tells Variety.

What seemed like the film’s biggest obstacle actually turned out to be a strong point.

“The power of cinema on these people is huge. We were like the circus coming to town. Once I was there (in Camorra heartland) I realized they were very willing to participate in this project. We gave lots of people a chance to work in an artistic enviroment, and even make suggestions.”

Adding to the authenticity of what is being described as the most unsentimental Mafia movie ever made — and the most devoid of mob mystique — is the fact that Garrone partly used actors from a nearby jail theater program, though “Gomorrah” also features plenty of pro thesps, including Toni Servillo who also plays Andreotti in “Il Divo.”

As for the movie’s impact, “I hope if there is any type of real crackdown it won’t just be cosmetic,” says Garrone. “You have to start from the root of the problem: unemployment, ignorance, enormous political responsibilities. It’s not just a matter of nabbing a few bad guys.”

By contrast, Paolo Sorrentino’s pop opera “Il Divo” was granted entry into another rarely filmed Italo location: the Lower House of parliament, where seven-time prime minister Giulio Andreotti, now a senator for life, held court for almost five decades before his Christian Democrats were toppled in the early 1990s by a massive corruption scandal in which the Machiavellian pol faced trials for alleged Mafia ties. Andreotti has since been acquitted.

“Il Divo” mixes evocations of the many skeletons that Andreotti’s detractors say remain in the 89-year-old pol’s closet — including Italy’s still mystery-shrouded crimes like the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli by Mafia hitmen, the hanging of “God’s banker” Roberto Calvi under London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge, the slaying of Andreotti’s Sicilian lieutenant Salvo Lima, and Andreotti’s purported encounter with Cosa Nostra Boss of all Bosses Toto Riina — with a fresh pop aesthetic and a portrayal of Andreotti’s human side.

Making “Il Divo,” which won the Cannes Jury Prize, wasn’t easy.

“I got told ‘No’ so many times that it made me wonder; because at the same time the screenplay was being praised, and so were the film’s commercial prospects,” Sorrentino says.

The reason for the brick wall?

“In Italy, there is a very strong web of relations spun over decades of a monolithic (political) power system,” the director says. “There are still big pockets of powerful people who are very grateful to Andreotti.”

This form of “respect” precluded both a TV presale and product placement coin, customary for most Italian productions, to producers Nicola Giuliano, Francesca Cima and Andrea Occhipinti.

Andreotti himself was among the first to see “Il Divo,” which he has called a “low blow.” The sarcastic senator subsequently commented on the pic’s Cannes nod by saying “I’m happy for the producer,” adding: “If I had a share of the profits, I’d be even happier.”

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