Gomorrah, Cherry Blossoms
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Reviewed by Matt Prigge
Opens Fri., Feb. 27
However impressive the sprawling Italian crime saga Gomorrah, it'd be more impressive if it hadn't arrived deep within the age of HBO and Showtime. After something like The Wire spends five seasons and some 60 hours fleshing out its expansive subject, to extend "only" 135 minutes to something similar can only feel like a tease.
Coming off either like a promising pilot or an entire season gruesomely condensed for movie theaters, Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah--its title a heavy-handed play on Camorra, the Italian Mafia organization it profiles--adapts Roberto Saviano's dangerously well-researched nonfiction best-seller, which delved so deep into its subject its author has been granted permanent police escort. Garrone's film takes no such chances: It's a thinly fictionalized version that, in lieu of a single guide-character, gives equal focus to five different plot threads, plus dozens of characters.
A kid and a tailor each get embroiled in gang play. Elsewhere both a timid middleman and an idealistic graduate fret over criminal deeds. All the while a pair of reckless, cocky wannabe-Tony Montanas run about, waiting to get killed.
Gomorrah is most valuable for its tone, which somehow manages to be clinical yet clearly horrified. There are no iconic idols or glamorous lifestyles here. With its utter lack of--and cool disdain for-- gangsta chic, Gomorrah serves as a corrective to the likes of City of Men and even The Godfathers and the films of Martin Scorsese (who lent his name to the U.S. release). Garrone paints a world whose every inch is corrupted by crime, and sets his action in grimy slums and post-apocalyptic vistas with characters who'll never be emulated by fans.
That, of course, is because no characters ever really grip, nor do any of its storylines. With only a little more than two hours to burn, Gomorrah never gets to develop and thus feels sui generis but superficial. Look at the title and you've basically figured out what Garrone is after. All that's left is to sort out the film's daisy chain of characters. That should take you a couple reels. There are plenty of stand-out scenes and surreal/absurdist sequences--the Scarface Jrs. giddily firing off a stolen arsenal in their undies; kids practicing being shot at with makeshift bulletproof vests; a bullet-ridden car that crashes through a pasture of junked Roman statues--but the only thing it instills in you is a wish for more.
Directed by Doris D�rrie
Reviewed by Matt Prigge
Opens Fri., Feb. 27
Even before the action relocates from Germany to Tokyo, Doris D�rrie's earnest grief porn drama Cherry Blossoms plays like a fanboy ode to Japanese minimalist (and Criterion Collection favorite) Yasujiro Ozu. In fact, the intentionally misleading first 40 minutes could count as a loose remake of Ozu's best-known film Tokyo Story, updated and starring a middle-aged German couple rather than a bumblng Japanese one.
Upon learning that her boring, clockwork husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper) is dying, onetime hausfrau Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) arranges a trip to Berlin. There, they reconvene with their children, who prove madly assholish, albeit slightly less so when D�rrie's script arranges for Trudi, not her husband, to pass on.
Consumed with guilt for being dull during his wife's life, Rudi ventures to Japan to loosen up on the way to his own inevitable end. Amid shots of him gawking sheepishly at Asia's neon and busyness, Rudi strikes up a relationship with an all-too-kind teenaged Butoh dancer (Aya Irizuki). (Someone saw Lost in Translation, didn't they?)
Grief is a hard thing to capture on film without tumbling into banality, and tumble Cherry Blossoms does. From shots of cascading waves to sunsets to Rudi lying on a bed next to the deceased's clothes, D�rrie's film nakedly aims for the gentleness of Ozu. But D�rrie (of the '80s favorite Men) is not Ozu. Ponderous and fussy, Cherry Blossoms often feels as though it were following a how-to on making a film about overcoming death, all set to a sickeningly twinkly piano score. Even the title acts as a shortcut to profundity, and sure enough, someone's on hand to helpfully explain that said flowers are "the most beautiful symbol of impermanence." Gee, just like life.