PictureGomorrah comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded with the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio (though the box uses the “catch all” inclusive phrase of 2.35:1). The disc itself is locked to region A and comes to us via Criterion.
As one would expect with a Criterion release, attempts have been made to keep this transfer as close to the original artistic intention of its makers, as such, the process of bringing this creation to Bu-ray was supervised and approved by director Matteo Garrone and his cinematographer Marco Onorato. I'm pleased to say that for the most part the various procedures undertaken to give us the best possible viewing material have been successful.
The ever shifting nature of the interweaving stories doesn't aid any great degree of consistency with regards to the image, but generally everything seems well delineated, with the obvious emphasis being that which is in the foreground. Faces are resplendent with deep lines that seem almost carved into the visages of the elderly actors. Detail on these sun drenched canvasses is something to behold once the camera steadies and the light is crisp and bright. Once into the shadows, things become a touch more inconsistent though, but this was always to be expected given the use of natural light and continued camera movement. Thankfully Criterion, Garrone and Onorato look to have resisted the temptation to heavy handedly artificially sharpen these sections, instead preferring to simply bring out as much detail as possible whilst remaining true to the visual style.
The work to clean up any debris and imperfections on the print itself looks to have been almost entirely successful. I did note a few tell tale white specks popping their ugly little heads up in a few instances, but these were very much in the minority and I feel you'd probably have to be looking for them (as I was). There is healthy grain structure to the image that helps give a filmic and almost organic look to the cinematography, fitting in nicely with the gritty surroundings. Any quibbles with the quality of the picture generally come by way of the style used and thus can be considered moot. It is hard to criticise a shot for blooming when the camera's iris is pointed straight at the light emanating from behind a curtain, or moan about a moment's murky shadow detail when we have followed a character in from an exterior of bright Mediterranean sunshine into a gloomy apartment with no obvious light source. Simply put, this is as it should be, complete with what some may see as flaws of the filming process, but others will rightly laud as an intentional push for realism. The only real drawback to this presentation is that of the subtitles. They appear in frame, so anyone with a CIA/CIH set-up will be pleased, but the use of white lettering without a firm outline results in the age old problem of certain scenes being harder to read than others thanks to white objects in the underlying image itself. It's hardly a major flaw considering the work by Garrone, Onorato and Criterion to bring us an artistically accurate and faithful picture in all other areas.
SoundAudio options for Gomorrah are singular, with the only choice being an Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.
As with the realistic choices made for the visual display, similar avenues seem to have been pursued with regards the sounds put forth. There are no fancy sweeps or pans gracing this track, instead it aims to represent the world of the Camorra in an accurate manner with no additional frills or artistic license thrown in for the thrill seeking crowd of gangster film fans. The one deviation from this is the use of music, which comes through the front speakers with gusto. Used sparingly and only to highlight particular instances of character development, the melodies claimed to have been loved by the gangs in Saviano's book are brought to the listener in an extremely accomplished manner here. The vocals are rich and mellow, but maintain a sharp resonance that vies with the pop music that bounces behind them. These moments represent the few of joviality and hints of a care free existence that the otherwise stark film has to offer, so it is right that they spring forth with a surprisingly wide soundstage that swells into the room far more than one might have expected given the sombre tones during the rest of the run time.
Vocals are also handled adeptly, with differing environments having an effect on the timbre and resonance of the voices of characters. With speech drawled out of mouths in an incredibly relaxed and realistic manner, the centre channel had to be perfectly in tune with the rest of the frontal array and I never found this not to be the case. The environmental effects of a slight echo or speech that seems to flow past the camera is well realised and it is all too easy to miss this subtlety, but it is there nonetheless.
This striving for a correct representation of the world of the Camorra might perturb some when they hear the guns being fired. Foregoing the extremely loud bangs that unrealistically often accompany even small calibre arms in Hollywood far, Garrone sticks to a more down to earth and authentic crack and pop. That isn't to say that the subwoofer isn't called into action or that these moments lacked power, it's just that the ensuing noises are more defined by the proximity of the camera to the action and the surroundings in which the weapon is fired rather than the “one size fits all” ethos that mainstream films attach to gunshots. They are weak in comparison to standard action flicks, but the bleak settings in which they find themselves fired in, with little to no background noise, often makes the sounds all the more punctuating.
With realism and ambience the key to this experience, the surrounds are sparingly used, with sometimes a fair amount of content coming through them, but never anything that pushes into the environment. They are first and foremost employed as scene-setters, carriers of ambient noises that will help populate the environment to aid the impression of a bustling city. It is hard to find any great fault with this track, as it does everything it sets out to do with some ease and even throws in the odd flourish such as the well rounded music that springs into the room. It may be sparse at times and lack punch, but that was never the order of the day for Gamorrah.
ExtrasGomorrah: Five short stories - 1:02:32
Melania Cacucci's hour long documentary, which was both shot and directed by her, made for Fandango Productions in 2008. This 62 minute insight into the making of the feature is a real gem from start to finish. Split along the lines of the main characters, with each significant story receiving its own segment. We see the filming of Toto, Don Ciro, Pasquale, Franco and Ciro and Marco's scenes in an intimate fly-on-the-wall style. Not only does this bring to light various alternate takes, it also shows us just how organic the process Garrone applies to his actors work is. It is fascinating to see the framework set, as the director builds the players up to give the most accurate representation of this world they can possibly muster by way of improvisation and a natural demeanour that must fit the scene as opposed to the priority of the script. The choice moments are saved for the final reel though, as the actor who plays Bimbo (a genuine Camorrista) starts to feel perhaps he isn't appreciated to the extent he would like.
Matteo Garrone - 22:37
Shot exclusively for the Criterion Collection, July 2009 in Rome. This featurette helps round out the genesis of the project from Garrone's perspective and why he made the stylistic choices he did. What is apparent is the emphasis on the film being a snapshot of the book, with the director admitting that Saviano's work could have comprised 100 films such was the wealth of information contained within. Everything from the production such as locales and editing is discussed, as well as broader topics, including Garrone's influences and the reception the Gomorrah received from the critics and the gangs. Once again, it's the little facts that rise to the fore that really holds your attention, for instance the need for production members to wear passes so as to identify themselves to the gangs when filming.
Toni Servillo - 13:54
Another exclusive interview for the Criterion Collection filmed in Rome, July 2009. Here the actor who plays Franco gives us his views about the character he portrayed as well as Garrone's choice of actors and the manner in which the script was used by those involved. Again, it's the minor notes (such as how Servillo has known Garrone since he was a child) as well as the intellectualised pontificating upon the subject matter that makes this an illuminating watch.
Actors - 10:32
A feature comprising three fairly short interviews with the actors Gainfelice Imparto (Don Ciro), Salvatore Cantalupo (Pasquale) and Toni Servillo (Franco).
Roberto Saviano - 43:00
Split into five parts which can be individually reached from an index menu. They are; The Secondigliano War, The system, The land of fires, Angelina Jolie and finally Hollywood. This stands as more of a brief recap of various facts from the book than an interview with the author, which is something of a shame. Whilst I was a tad disappointed, hoping for more information about the author himself, this remains an invaluable fourty odd minutes of background information to the main feature. It puts the vents in a context and fleshes out the impact of particular incidents. It is no substitute for reading the book, but it does pack in a lot of the more pertinent facts about the world we witness in the film.
Deleted scenes - 12:55
Comprising six separate scenes, labelled Toto, Don Ciro, Franco 1, Franco 2, Pasquale and finally Ciro and Marco. There isn't much here that feels of any great importance, but it is always nice to see further evidence of Garrone and Onorato's skill at framing landscape and structures as well as a few more minor character developments.
Trailer - 2:28
Self explanatory, but given the American voiceover used to describe the film to a potential audience I'd suggest you skip this at all costs.
In total this is a fantastic set of extras that strips away any needless menu gloss and animated fluff in favour of simple, straight forward but highly enjoyable interviews and invaluable production footage.
VerdictGomorrah's Blu-ray release is a success in every department. The film itself is that rarest of book adaptations - a piece that actually accompanies its inspiration rather than being a direct retelling. It dispenses with the rigid structural elements of Saviano's expose of the Camorra clans and instead favours a fragmented approach, interweaving multiple stories that combine to give a snapshot of this world of criminality. It may lack the intricate details of economics and forego some of the bloodier violence but it remains very much true to its aim of representing the human tragedy and the choices that are laid out before many who inhabit the same geographical space as the gangs.
The disc is pretty much what we've come to expect of Criterion, being solid in all areas. The cinematography doesn't lend itself to this ever being demo material but that doesn't mean it is far from reference grade. The work to clean up the image and maintain the grain looks to be almost a resounding success and it is only minor niggles that can be levelled at the visuals. The audio is of a similar high standard, bringing the ambience of the housing projects and the joyful music to life. The extras are simple but effective, being aimed squarely at those who want to unravel the filming process and access this information without any bells and whistles attached.
A gripping film brought to a home format in exactly the right way.
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