Already sold in some 50 territories including the U.S., courtesy of the Weinstein Co., the Italian series “Gomorrah” represents a promising attempt to break into the crowded quality-TV market that, if backed by an intelligent distribution strategy, could receive wide international exposure — a first for Italian television. Two years in the making, this serial adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s bestselling investigation into the Neapolitan mob covers different chapters from those seen in Matteo Garrone’s acclaimed 2008 bigscreen version. The enduring (if stereotyped) romance between international audiences and the fictional Italian mob will boost the skein’s reception abroad, although “Gomorrah” will also serve to dispel a myth or two still surrounding the onscreen depiction of organized crime.
The series’ first 12-episode season follows Ciro (Marco D’Amore), the up-and-coming right hand of the Savastano family boss, Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino), and his bovine son, Genny (Salvatore Esposito). Rival clans fight for control of the marketplace, and violent retribution is as diplomatic as it gets. Archetypal narrative arcs are drawn as soon as the clan’s patriarch is arrested, creating a power vacuum; although Genny is next in line, as per the blood laws that govern organized crime, it’s Ciro who seems the most credible and competent heir apparent.
Boasting the typical arrogance of a spoiled child, but a rather weak stomach when it comes to criminal actions, Genny has none of his father’s menacing charisma, let alone his lethal mixture of wisdom and virulence. He enjoys all the perks of his family’s power but shares none of its murderous responsibilities, something Pietro senses prior to his arrest and warns Ciro about, instructing him to “christen” his son by making him kill someone.
Following Pietro’s incarceration, his wife, Imma (Maria Pia Calzone), gradually morphs from upholding matriarch into ruthless businesswoman. As her husband’s jail time keeps extending, even including a stint in solitary confinement, his grip on his empire and his mental faculties begin to waver, leaving his wife and son effectively in command. Counting on Genny’s weakness and lack of leadership, Ciro immediately tries to fill the Savastano’s vacant throne, only to clash with Imma’s determination to keep their kingdom in the family. And a kingdom indeed it is, with ramifications for the global estate market (the Camorra had invested in the reconstruction of Ground Zero) as well as the abstract speculations of the financial world.
Confidently setting new standards for Italian TV fiction, showrunner Stefano Sollima proves to be a worthy successor to his country’s long tradition of genre moviemaking, of which his father Sergio was a refined exponent back in the ’70s. Robust direction and immaculate photography package the grim reality of Naples’ darkest side in an authentic, nonsensationalist narrative: With almost clinical accuracy, the imagery reveals the cultural cancer of the Camorra through myriad unflattering details.
Like a bruise on the social body, a livid light is uniformly distributed across the smallscreen canvas, where dark green, Prussian blue and deathly tonalities of black dominate the scene, occasionally lightened by the unearthly pallor of neon-lit indoor spaces. Medium long shots of empty highways and prison corridors place the series’ characters on the one-way road of crime, while closeups home in on their private conversations and reveal their occasional insecurities. Sollima, who directed six episodes, shows his artistry in the staging of key moments when bullets hiss by, cars crash and people drop dead, but he doesn’t shy away from a certain epic grandeur.
Unlike the film, “Gomorrah” the series hints at the systemic nature of the Camorra, which the showrunner himself refers to as the other face of capitalism. Cameras even enter the palaces of power, in whose elegant corridors the economic dimension of organized crime comes full circle. As in the original book by Saviano, who oversaw the screenplay, the mob is here framed within the larger context of the global, neo-liberal economy. If further developed in this direction, “Gomorrah” might well turn into Italy’s answer to “The Wire.”