MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
Gomorrah, the Italian television series based on the 2006 non-fiction book and 2008 movie of the same name, is captivating the United States. The most popular TV show in Italy since its debut in 2012 (and arguably ever), Gomorrah shows the seedy underbelly of Italy’s Napoli and the reality of mob life. The story is important because it shows the ugliness of greed and arrogance, the utter destruction and brutal violence, and the devastation crime syndicates like this can have on neighborhoods and even an entire nation. It is gripping because the characters are so fleshed out and human and flawed. Despite the fact that you find yourself despising their lack of empathy and ability to kill anyone who gets in the way of their dishonest money-making schemes, you want to know what’s going to happen to them.
While many in the United States are drawing comparisons to HBO’s wildly popular Sopranos, there is one major difference. The Sopranos were entirely fictional. Yes, there was research done, and it drew on a reality that still exists to some extent in New Jersey today. But Gomorrah is indeed truth. The book’s author, Roberto Saviano, infiltrated the Camorra (spelled Gomorrah in Neapolitan dialect), the ruling mafia in modern Italy, which has decimated Naples and Campania, its surrounding region. An investigative journalist, Saviano took jobs, such as waiting tables at a Camorra wedding, that brought him close to his subjects. “Gomorrah is a bold and important work of investigative writing that holds global significance, one heroic young man’s impassioned story of a place under the rule of a murderous organization,” according to the Amazon synopsis.
In fact, many of my relatives and friends in Ischia, which is a Neapolitan island, say the book and the show are all too real. Since the book’s release Saviano remains in hiding for obvious reasons. That’s why I feel like it’s an obligation to get to know this content – the book, the movie, the show – because we’re giving away bella, calda Napoli, which raised my family with generous, loving hearts and not this violent destruction decimating the city today. Saviano seems to want to save his beloved home, and so do the good people of Napoli, who still exist. Saviano indeed may have given up his life to save it, in fact. What I find reassuring about the Sopranos and Gomorrah is that both show how unglamorous, depressing, and heartbreaking choosing this criminal life is. There’s absolutely nothing nice about it, and these people are destroying their own home. If you’re familiar with the Italian culture, you will hear Pino Daniele’s “Napul e'” ringing in your head while you watch. You can’t help it. Naples is as much a character as the people.
Without further ado, here’s what’s happened in the first two showings on SundanceTV (which amount to four episodes in Italy):
Episodes 1 and 2: You are first introduced to Ciro (Marco D’Amore), a young up-and-coming gangster, who sees Attilio a veteran henchman, who follows all the rules and seems to be more old-school, as a father. Attilio gets killed by the end of the episode in a shootout with a rival gang and Ciro is visibly shaken. While the head of the mob family makes sure Attilio’s family gets taken care of financially, his widow is devastated to hear that her husband can’t be buried in the church because he was found dead with a gun in his hand. Ciro and Gennaro (Salvatore Esposito), the don’s son, watch the scene from a building across the street because the police are everywhere and they can’t be seen there.
In the meantime, you also meet Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino) and his wife Imma (Maria Pia Calzone). They are fretting about Gennaro’s immaturity and spoiled attitude, which was admittedly of their own making. But Pietro also has a sense that Gennaro is next in line to head the family, and does not have it in him to kill or make the kinds of decisions necessary to keep the crime syndicate going. This is particularly troublesome for Pietro who feels the police closing in on him. There’s a couch in the family’s posh villa, which stands in stark contrast to the dingy apartments that house the henchman, that we later learn Pietro thinks is bugged and so he gives it to Ciro. Imma replaces the couch and her husband and her go back and forth about whether it is comfortable until he finally decides this one is probably bugged, too. Imma consoles her husband and tries to convince him that he’s safe from jail, but he doesn’t think so. We learn that his father spent his senior years in hiding from the police, and Pietro fears such a life.
His paranoia is plastered on the episode. Pietro kills his loyal bookie, who failed to show up to a hit, because he thought the don was making poor decisions. Pietro mistakenly thought he was an informant to the police. On his way out of the bookie’s apartment, he cleans himself up, steps over the body, and puts on the henchman’s jacket. While leaving the scene he learns Gennaro was in a motorcycle crash. Don Pietro bought the motorcycle for his son after he had Ciro take him to make his first hit. Gennaro had fired the first shot, but he couldn’t go on, so Ciro finished the job. But the two agreed to tell Pietro that Gennaro did it himself. After Pietro gives the gift of the motorcycle, he learns of the deception. He makes Ciro drink a glass of champagne and his piss to prove that he can take over should he end up in jail or dead and that he must continue to take Gennaro under his wing. When Pietro learns of Gennaro’s accident, he starts speeding to the hospital. The police stop him and in the bookie’s jacket, they find drugs. They also find a bag full of money in his trunk. He’s going to jail. Imma, meanwhile, ponders whether Gennaro ran the red light on purpose because he wanted to die after his first encounter with murder. Before Gennaro gets on the motorcycle, he visits the scene of the crime, where friends of the deceased have placed a cross and some photos. He seems remorseful and sickened when he jumps on his motorcycle, so you’re wondering, too. Gennaro’s life hangs in the balance at the end of the episode.
Episodes 3 and 4: You quickly learn that Gennaro has survived and is recovering. Pietro is making his way through prison and the guards warn him there’s no special treatment for mobsters like there was in the old days. But the inmates greet him like he’s a god. They follow his every lead. He takes a liking to a young kid, Pasqualino, who I think reminds him of Gennaro but with greater gumption. Still, he’s a junkie, who botched a jewelry heist and faces sentencing. Pasqualino is down about it, and Pietro gives him his expensive button-down shirt to wear in court. He still gets 10 years. Pietro feels terrible for him and suggests that they pursue home incarceration and rehab. Pasqualino sees no way out and uses the shirt to hang himself despite Pietro’s efforts to save him.
Ciro starts to show Gennaro some of the pleasures of being on top of the crime family. He helps him organize a private concert for some of his friends and win the heart of a girl, Noemi, he had been admiring from afar. Pietro is relying on Rino, a corrupt cop on the inside, to continue to conduct business. He brings him a phone, and he sets up a meeting with a possible other network to carry out a drug route in his absence. Then, African immigrants, who have set up their own mob for selling drugs, tire of offering Pietro such a high percentage of their earnings. So, they send one of their best men into jail to cut a new deal. Pietro is angry they are doing this, and goes on a racist tirade, which leads to violence. People are getting stabbed, and the warden is often putting Pietro in solitary confinement. He has Rino transferred to another jail.
Pietro loses contact with the outside and starts relaying messages through his wife, who visits him. Pietro has the inmates cause lots of trouble to the warden’s chagrin. Meanwhile, Pietro decides to feign a deal with the African inmate, and together they start a prison riot, replete with burning mattresses. The warden allows him to believe he has won, and Rino returns. Ciro gives him a gift of money to thank him and a phone to smuggle into the jail. Pietro uses it to call Ciro and tell him to shoot up the African neighborhood to show them who’s boss. The scene was horrific. Gennaro is with Ciro and is supposed to stay in the car with the motor running. He leaves and looks at the carnage. Ciro is furious with him, but they get out alive and before the police arrive. They burn the car they used and take off. Gennaro gets home and can’t stop vomiting. His mother tells him he has to toughen up as word of the innocent Africans murdered in the street plays on the news in the background.
Turns out the new phone from Rino was bugged. The police hear Pietro telling Ciro about the hit on the Africans. All hope of getting transferred to an easier prison or getting out any time soon goes out the window. Pietro is headed to a maximum security prison and possibly solitary confinement, which Pietro says will be the end of him.
UPDATE ON 9/8/2016 – Episodes 5 and 6: We learn more about Pietro’s financial adviser, who is far away from Napoli in Milan. Last week Ciro told Gennaro that his family and him owned this guy and everything he had. Now, we really get to see this for ourselves. Pietro sends the word that Gennaro and Imma need access to cash. But in Pietro’s absence, the financial adviser, invests in a company believing he can make some cash for himself. He has nothing to give them, and he recognizes the anger on the part of Donna Imma. So, he tries to sell his share of the business quickly for cash. But the potential buyer finds a problem in the audit and the deal falls through. Next, he tracks down the auditor and tries to bribe him. He wants no part of it, so he threatens him and his family. That guy calls the police, and the financial adviser ends up in jail, too. Imma explains to Gennaro how awful this guy is because he took their money (which they, of course, had taken illegally from so many others) and now he got himself arrested besides. She would have to send Pietro’s lawyer to help him, too.
Once they get him out of jail, Imma breaks bread with him. It’s intense. She’s eating linguine con le vongole and he is blubbering. It is unclear what she has asked him to do exactly. But he says he’s done wrong and can try to fix it. She says he can’t and her way is better. Then, Imma tells him to puts all the accounts in his wife’s name, so the funds can be unblocked and she can get Pietro’s money back before the government sequesters it. He continues crying, and Imma tells him to pull himself together and do this for his family, which includes a baby on the way, because it’s the only way they can live in peace. She also promises that they will never be in want of anything; she’ll be sure of it. Do you believe her? Anyway, the financial adviser goes to this warehouse, where everyone is celebrating his step-daughter’s 18th birthday (which is like a sweet 16 in Italy but both males and females celebrate them). It’s a posh affair, and he apologizes to his wife and step-daughter for being late. They sing happy birthday and he slips away to a balcony, where he jumps off and commits suicide. I couldn’t watch.
In the meantime, Ciro and Imma are fighting for Gennaro’s ear. Gennaro doesn’t really notice at first because he’s head over heels in love with Noemi, the girl he had Ciro help him win over. He puts her up in a small apartment he calls their love shack. They spend a lot of time together, and in one scene it appears they are doing cocaine. There are many scenes showing how Gennaro is a bit spoiled and immature. He’s fully clothed and jumping into pools with his friends. He is singing Italian rap songs with them. And he’s trying to live large, but he’s not really interested in doing anything being asked of him. Gennaro does, however, blow up at Ciro saying that both him and his mother keep telling him he’s the boss now that his father is in jail, but then they try to tell him what to do. It’s an a-ha moment for Ciro, who is beginning to realize he’s in a power struggle with Donna Imma even though Pietro asked him to call the shots in his absence. Imma does not like Noemi and thinks her son lacks the maturity and strength to run a business, even if it’s criminal activity.
Things just get crazy after this. Gennaro in his anger and delusion sends Ciro to drive his mother to the prison to see Pietro, who can only have one visitor at a time in the maximum security prison. This was a big deal. Gennaro refusing to go was his way of saying, “I want the glory, but I don’t really want to be involved with this work.” It angered Ciro, who recognized that Gennaro was giving his mother the power. In the meeting at jail, Ciro reminds Imma that Gennaro and Ciro are in charge and to keep it that way. They have to be subtle and mysterious in how they discuss this because there’s a guard with them the whole time. Imma’s response to this is outrageous and unexpected. She divides Ciro and Gennaro, who seem to have made peace.
Imma sends Ciro to Spain to make peace with a dealer of hashish, whose mother’s house Ciro had burned in Episode 1. Then, she sends her own son, Gennaro, to Honduras to basically take over another drug business. Without actually saying it, both men think they are being sent to their deaths. As a viewer, you’re kind of wondering, too. Just like that, there’s a Godmother in town. Gennaro doesn’t leave for Honduras until the end of the episode, and he is unable to explain where he is going or what he is doing to anyone. Noemi is devastated, and the two have a terrible argument. Gennaro tries to make up without telling her the truth, but she is disappointed that his mother seems to rule his every move. As they are about to kiss and make-up, Noemi suggests he leave her something – his seed – to keep her waiting for him while he’s gone. Just like that Gennaro proves he is not as stupid as we think. That’s it, he’s done with Noemi. Buh-bye, I’m not going to be your baby daddy. After squeezing his mother and admitting he will miss her terribly, he heads off to the airport with his friends, who drop him off. His mother seems less sad or concerned about his departure. Strange for an Italian mamma.
For now, Ciro is facing much more serious danger. From the moment he arrives in Spain, it is clear that he is in enemy territory. The dealer puts him up in a hotel that he owns. He asks for a different room, but it doesn’t change the fact that they lock him in and cut off the phone lines. He sleeps on the floor by the door with a gun in his hand. He strong arms the driver, who finally picks him up, into bringing him directly to the dealer, Don Salvatore. He brings him on a boat and takes him into the middle of the ocean. He puts a knife to Ciro’s throat and threatens him for what he did to his mamma. Instead of slashing his throat, he throws Ciro overboard and leaves him there. You’re convinced Ciro is gonna die. Instead, others come to save him and hand him a phone with Don Salvatore on the other side saying he’s ready to talk now. You think the worst is behind him. But oh no. At the nightclub, also owned by Salvatore, Ciro suggests making peace and getting back in business together again. Salvatore gets up to go to the bathroom, and another mobster follows him in. Ciro, who misses nothing, alerts Salvatore’s people of what’s happening. They all go to the bathroom and find the unknown mobster trying to rough up Salvatore on behalf of a Russian mob family, who wants in on the business, too. Salvatore pees on this Russian henchmen. Back at the house, gunfire rains on Salvatore, one of his guys, and Ciro. Ciro and Salvatore are shot but not fatally.
You’re wondering when Ciro’s nine lives are going to run out. He is, too. Salvatore agrees to a deal if Ciro cuts a deal with the Russians, even though he’s never met with him and he has nothing to do with them. Salvatore tells Ciro straight out that he’s sending him because he can’t risk losing one of his own men. Again, Ciro is not sure if he’s going to survive. Sure enough, at the meeting with the Russian, the head of this family makes Ciro play Russian roulette. Literally, he had to put a gun to his head and fire and see if he lived. If he survived, the deal would go through. If not, oh well. Lucky for him (and viewers), the show goes on because Ciro is alive. He jumps into the ocean with all his clothes before returning to Naples. Salvatore asks him if he wants to change families and work for him instead of Pietro, but Ciro declined and added he was “happy in his house.” Salvatore says I hope it stays that way for you. When Ciro gets home, he learns Gennaro is in Honduras and he asks to be brought directly to Pietro’s house. We’ll have to wait to find out what happens next.
EPISODES 7 and 8 – Gennaro Is Back with a Vengeance on Gomorrah
EPISODES 9 and 10 – Ciro Declares War on Gomorrah