No Oscar in prospect for realistic portrayal of Mafia brutality
ROME LETTER:Why does Hollywood think there is something inherently funny about organised crime, asks Paddy Agnew
OVER THE years, your correspondent has always been puzzled by the huge success of the American TV drama series The Sopranos, a work which dealt, in an often humorous way, with the everyday vicissitudes of a New Jersey mobster and his family.
Sure the series was cleverly scripted, brilliantly acted and intelligently told but, in the end, its hero was a violent godfather and the underlying protagonist was organised crime.
How would Irish viewers react to a soap opera about the Murphys in mid-80s Belfast and the difficulties they faced in trying to resolve the conflicting requirements of home life and being effective Provo operatives?
One suspects that no matter how well written the series was and no matter how many intriguing philosophical, social or political themes it touched, many in this country would still be outraged.
Organised crime is neither funny nor entertaining.
The point was perhaps made this week when Matteo Garrone’s film Gomorra, based on a hard-hitting expose of the Neapolitan Mafia, the Camorra, was adjudged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts not good enough to make a shortlist of nine for the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.
The academy boffins will no doubt tell us that, interesting as it is, Gomorrasimply was not up to the mark.
Yet, how come the film picked up the Grand Prix award at Cannes last year, not to mention five prizes at the 2008 European Film Awards?
How come Gomorra, based on the two-million-plus bestseller by Roberto Saviano, has won widespread critical acclaim not only in Italy but also across Europe?
No, clearly this is a good and important film but one for which Hollywood simply does not have the stomach.
The Mafia are just fine when it is a question of mobster Tony Soprano in a heart to heart chat with his therapist but a lot less appetising, it would seem, when we we are talking about the grizzly, bloody and violent everyday drug-reality of today’s Naples.
Naples-born Italian film director Gabriele Salvatores, himself a Foreign Film Oscar winner in 1992 with Mediterraneo, finds the exclusion of Gomorra“absurd”.
He believes Academy members tend to prefer films aimed at the widest possible public, telling Turin daily La Stampa this week: “Sure, Gomorramight seem difficult because there is no obvious storyline to follow, no central character with whom to identify and because it doesn’t have a happy ending, but we are in 2009.”
Maybe the Academy has a point. Cinema and show business, after all, are about entertainment and there is nothing entertaining about organised crime.
The grimy, grubby cinéma vérité style of Gomorrahas been called “too realistic” by one British critic, who said he had difficulty working out whether he was watching “real people or professional actors”.
In truth, this was a fair observation since at least three members of the Gomorra cast have subsequently been arrested for Camorra-related offences. It seems that some small-time godfathers just could not resist the chance of acting in a film, acting out their own everyday lives.
Curiously, in the very week that Gomorrawas being overlooked for the Oscars, life not so much imitated as outstripped art when wanted Camorra killer Giuseppe Setola was arrested near Caserta, close to Naples.
Setola, a member of the Casalesi family, which features in Saviano’s book, was arrested on Wednesday after a three-day flight that began with him escaping down a sewer and ended with a dramatic rooftop chase.
Wanted by police for no less than 18 murders in the last nine months, (including the killing of six Africans at Castel Volturno last September), Setola allegedly has a great devotion to the Kalashnikov rifle.
One ex-Camorrista, now turned state’s witness, told investigators that when he was deciding to pull off a “job”, Setola would tell his “soldiers”: “I’ve already got a life sentence and I’ve nothing to lose, so we’ll do this my way – we go in shooting, we’re not here to make jewellery.”
In today’s world, much has been (correctly) made of the fact that organised crime has long since moved into a whole series of legitimate businesses, including high finance, as a way to recycle its drug-created money. Setola, however, was not one such “financier”.
Describing him this week, senior Neapolitan mafia investigator Franco Roberto said: “Setola is no psychopath. He is neither mad nor a fanatic. He does not kill in the name of Allah, he kills only for business.”
Living in grime and filth, and literally like a sewer rat, hardly makes for your average Hollywood hero. The problem about Gomorrais that it features many such unappetising characters.
Perhaps, this is just one case where the Hollywood boffins simply cannot stand too much reality. That is, of course, unless the Academy intends to give the Best Picture Award to Gomorraand prove us all wrong.