That's what hit me the most as I watched "Gomorra," the Italian movie based on Roberto Saviano's book on the Naples mafia. (It's playing at the Landmark Theater in Midtown here in Atlanta, as well as at other independent theaters across the U.S.)
The people in "Gomorra" live in utter squalor.
Saviano, the author, said in an interview that the film would probably be eye-opening for American movie-goers who are accustomed to seeing bell'Italia. He's right -- in so many ways.
Even the Italians in the film are squalid. In real life and in the movies, Italians are typically attractive, well-dressed and kempt -- the very definition of the bella figura.
But in "Gomorra," whose title plays on the biblical place Gomorrah and the name of the Naples crime syndicate, Camorra, most of the men are fat, slovenly, poorly-dressed and just plain ugly. And the woman aren't much better.
I don't say this to be mean; I say it to indicate just how different Gomorra world is from the rest of Italy.
The housing projects shown in the movie paint a portrait of desperation that would be hard to exaggerate. No gondolas, no spaghetti alle vongole, no stately museums here. Just depressing, run-down, squalid tenement blocks where people live as though in jail cells for fear of leaving the house and meeting a bullet.
While watching the movie, I remembered that when I was reading the book, I would forget at times that all the people, all the scenarios, all the scenes were real. I think I would forget because it just seems so unreal.
Some of the best scenes in the movie are the ones that show the subtle differences in the lives of many people in the Naples area.
For example, there's a scene where one of the main characters, Pasquale, who works as a tailor in the Camorra-controlled textile industry, sees that a dress he slaved over was worn by Scarlett Johansson to the Academy Awards. He's briefly pleased, and looks around for a moment, and then realizes there's no one he can tell.
I also think it shows a new dimension in mob movies (or indeed, mob reality). This mob doesn't just control the flow of cigarettes or drugs or weapons. It controls textiles!
The movie continues at the Landmark in Atlanta. For more information on the film, go here: