Power, money and blood: these are the values that the residents of the province of Naples and Caserta confront every day. They have practically no choice, and are forced to obey the rules of the “System,” the Camorra. Only a lucky few can even think of leading a normal life. In Gomorrah five stories are woven together in a violent scenario, set in a cruel and ostensibly invented world, but one that is deeply rooted in reality.
Matteo Garrone, director of Gomorrah was born in Rome in 1968. He graduated from art school in 1986 and worked as an assistant cameraman and then spent several years dedicated to painting. In 1996 he won the Sacher Award for his short film SILHOUETTE. In 1997 he directed his first feature film, TERRA DI MEZZO, produced by his own company, Archimede, and distributed by Tandem. SILHOUETTE won the Special Jury Award and the Cipputi Award at the Turin Film Festival.
In 1998 he filmed the documentary ORESTE PIPOLO, FOTOGRAFO DI MATRIMONI in Naples and that same year he made his second feature film, GUESTS, which won the Kodak Award at the Venice Film Festival, a Special Mention at the Angers Film Festival, the Best Film Award at the Valencia Film Festival and the Kodak Award at the Messina Film Festival. His third feature ROMAN SUMMER (2000) was presented at the Venice Film Festival.
Garrone achieved public and critical acclaim for THE EMBALMER (2002), presented during the 55th Cannes Festival at the Director’s Fortnight. The film won the David di Donatello for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, the Nastro d’argento and Ciak d’Oro for Best Film Editing, the Fellini Award for Best Producer, Screenplay, Photography, Art Direction, and Film Distribution. It also won the Special Jury Award at the Pasolini Film Awards. In 2005, Matteo Garrone participated in the 54th Berlin Film Festival with his film FIRST LOVE and won the Silver Bear for the Best Soundtrack. The film also won the Nastro d”argento and David di Donatello awards for Best Soundtrack.
Bijan Tehrani: When did you first encounter this subject? Was it by reading the book, or being aware of what was going on in this part of Italy?
Matteo Garrone: To be honest, I read the book just a few weeks after it was published because the producer, Domenico Procacci, got the rights and he suggested to me to read the book. It was before the book became so popular, and before the writer came onto the production. I read the book and I realized immediately that there was an opportunity to make a movie; a movie that would be different from any other I had seen before.
Bijan: I know that some directors do not like to co-write the script with the author of the book, because they find that the writer of the original book always wants to protect the book. How was your experience writing the screenplay with the author, Roberto Saviano?
Matteo: When I met him I first talked about my point of view on how to make book into a movie. I talked with him and said that I want to go in a direction that is different in some ways than the book, but in some ways keep it similar. The movie is a little less informative—
Bijan: …It is more about characters than information.
Matteo: Exactly. In the book there is the character of Roberto Saviano that is in first person. We decided to not use this idea, but instead use many different characters, so the point of view is always from a different perspective. We agreed. But when we first started to work on the screenplay, in the end of September, Saviano started to have problems with Gamorra. So it became more difficult. He started to come to my house in Rome to work with police. So things changed from the first meeting that we had. But I remember that the work with him went very well. We had no problem at all, honestly. Of course the material was so abundant. There were so many possibilities; hundreds, maybe. So we decided on five stories, and we developed these dramatically. Of course, probably something was missed from the book.
Bijan: Having five different stories, all with the same value, is a very difficult filmmaking task. How did you accomplish this so successfully? How challenging was doing this?
Matteo: Honestly, that is something you will understand just after—how it worked out. You never know before hand if it will work or doesn’t. But, I don’t know.
Bijan: How much of the work was done during the screenplay? Was there much work done during the editing?
Matteo: Well, I have a particular way of working. We wrote the screenplay for five months. Then I went to prepare the movie, and then met a lot of people to work on locations. I verify the screenplay, and then I shoot. I then edit it, and on editing I work, and sometimes we reinvent a scene. And then I go back and shoot again. Before I re-shoot, I rewrite—with the screenwriter—the scene. If you want to reach a tonality of a color, you use many other colors to arrive at tonality.
Bijan: That brings me to my next question. How much does your background in painting affect the way you make movies?
Matteo: My background is very important. But it is important also when I decide to make a movie. When I read Saviano’s book, I found the book very powerful visually. That is why I decided to make this movie. There were some images that were, for me, very surprising—like the kids who drive the truck with the toxic waste, or the tailor that makes a lesson with the old Chinese in a fabric factory. So there were some images that I thought were very interesting to put into a movie. That is why I started to work on this project. I thought there was the possibility also to have a unique point of view from other movies, which sometimes try to glamorize the criminals. In this case, it was interesting to show the real life of criminals without glamorizing anything.
Bijan: Did you do any kind of research for this film? Did you go to Napoli?
Matteo:Yes. In 2002 I shot another movie there. I knew the area quite well. Of course I didn’t know about Scampia, where I shot the story of Toto and Don Ciro. And I didn’t know that in 2008 there would be a situation like that, where there would be people at war in this territory. For me, this was very surprising; to find that reality so close to my house. Just two hours from my house in Rome. I used to work a lot on location, on casting, so the casting was very important for me.
Bijan: Weren’t you worried that your life would be at risk while making this film?
Matteo: I started to work on this project before, so we didn’t know that many things were going to change. There are risks when you go to shoot in places like that, but I believed in the project, and always thought it was important to make this movie. Then the movie and the book together became very explosive. The government couldn’t ignore what was going on in this territory. So they declared ware against Gamorra, and brought the army to Napoli. The life of Saviano is always more endangered.
Bijan: Did you use professional actors, or a combination of professionals and amateurs?
Matteo: Almost everyone had acted in theater. There is an actor that comes from traditional theater, actors that come from a local theater and actors that come from a theater company that works in jails. Just a few are amateurs. But also, the actors that worked in the local companies, like Simone and Toto, they used to live in that area. So they had a marriage between the character and their own personal experience. They could bring to the character their own experiences and backgrounds. It was very interesting to work with them.
Bijan: Any future projects?
Matteo: At the moment I haven’t had time to think about my next project. Probably next year I will think about something.
Bijan: Are you still painting?
Matteo: No. I stopped painting twelve years ago when I made my first movie. I can’t work on cinema and painting.