Shallow Focus and the Aura of Authenticity in Gamorra

Gamorra/Gamorrah(2008)

 

Gamorra the film selects several stories from investigative journalist Roberto Saviano’s best seller of the same name. All set in or around the Camorra’s (Mafia of Napoli and its surrounding towns) territories and business interests. Gamorra includes several interesting formal features in which the film communicates the violence, despair, and seemingly unavoidable fate of the central character’s struggle to survive in Europe’s most violent neighbourhoods. The technique of shallow focus is important in Gamorra in communicating this poisoned atmosphere.

 

Shallow focus is the cinematographic technique which shows one plane of field clearly while the deeper plane of field is blurred or out of focus. The shallow focus technique would show a face close up in perfect detail but the background or location out of focus. Deep focus, shallow focus’s antithesis, is the technique which shows an entire image in focus. In exposition shots we see the use of deep focus to clearly identify depth and position. Gamorra uses the shallow focus technique to foreground certain elements important in the communication of the toxic heritage that living in the Camorra dominated south entails.

 

The shallow focus technique is used to indicate, in part, the attempt in the characters to ignore and distance themselves from the violence they are surrounded by. This is indicated in a scene where a money-carrier walks suspicious and fearful of his well-being after he has a gun pointed at his head. As he walks away hastily the background moves out of focus, he attempts to block out the violence he just saw, yet a voice shouts out his name and follows him until he reluctantly stops and engages with the voice that has been stalking him. As he does the film returns to a deep focus. This indicates the futile attempt that is ignoring the context or situation the character’s find themselves in; one cannot step out of Camorra controlled life. The aesthetic of the shallow focus communicates a sense of a constant, ungraspable, unknowable violence which envelops and blurs clear and distinctive perception. The use of shallow focus reminds the viewer that the violent acts and characters are borne out of the poisonous toxic context. The sense of the unknowable and paranoid, added to by the style of death of Maria, also alludes to the actual feelings of the author of Gomorra who lives under protective custody; the truth comes with a terrible price.

 

[[[SPOILER: At the end of the film as these boys are killed the Camorra boss commented that it was a waste of youth but it had to be done. The Camorra blunt and destroy youth and the very little of it that Italy has left are being chewed up and spat out. Gamorra seems to say that unless corruption is destroyed then every generation, in this region, will continue to have a large waste of youth.]]]

 

Gomorra has been linked to, and commented, to be in the Italian Neo-realist style [I have decided to create a full article concerning this statement however one element of the Neo-realist style is relevant enough here to merit bringing it up now; the use of non-actors in significant roles]. Andre Bazin commented concerning Italian Neo-realism ‘It is not the absence of professional actors that is, historically, the hallmark of social realism nor of the Italian film. Rather, it is specifically the rejection of the star concept and casual mixing of the professional’ and amateur. (1.) Bazin argues that this ensures the audience brings with it no pre-conceptions concerning character – the opposite to what Jean-Luc Godard did in Alphaville (1965); that is play with those pre-conceptions. Bazin explains ‘the result is… that extraordinary feeling of truth that one gets from [Italian Neo-realism]’. (2.) In Gomorra several significant, or rather nearly all, roles are played by amateurs and non-actors and this attributes to a sense of authenticity and realism. Skinny young men, fat overweight looking men litter the film; average-looking people, as opposed to the stylised look of Hollywood, imbues the aesthetic of Gamorra with an ‘atmosphere of authenticity’. (3.) This is added to outside of the film by the film’s official website which doesn’t list the actors beside pictures unlike Hollywood film where actor recognition is important.

 

Staying outside of the films’ digesis the aura of authenticity of Gomorra has been further added to by events outside of the film. One of the central messages of the film, and book, is the infectious dominating control the Camorra has in everyday life from the most basic domestic sphere to the world of industrial waste and fashion design. Recently Bernardino Terracciano, who plays a boss, has been ‘arrested on suspicion of extorting protection money and having ties to the Casalesi clan, part of the Camorra Mafia’. (4.) Two other actors, one a boss and the other a hitman in the film, have also been detained by the police. These facts add to the sense that the non-actors are just playing-out their day to day lives but in front of the camera just this once but it also rams home the central message of the film that you cannot escape the touch of the Camorra.

 

 

 

(1.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ in Andre Bazin, What is Cinema?, California: University of California Press, (1971), pp. 16-40 p. 23.

(2.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(3.) Andre Bazin ‘An Aesthetic of Reality: Neo-Realism’ p. 24.

(4.) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/3186186/Italian-mafia-film-Gomorrah-heads-for-Oscars–as-cast-members-are-arrested.html

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The Debt to, and Divergences From, Hollywood Cinema in Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog

This article continues on from my earlier post: The Debt to, and Divergences from, Hollywood Cinema in Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle and Juzo Itami’s Tampopo. I have decided to produce a full range of reviews and analysis’s of non-Hollywood film. As the title indicates I will start with the brilliant Stray Dog.

 

Stray Dog (1949)

 

Akira Kurosawa’s film contains both allusions to and major differences from Hollywood cinema. One major divergence is the disturbance of graphical clarity. A common aspect of the continuity editing system graphical clarity ensures that the mediating nature of film and the camera are allowed to remain hidden and unacknowledged. Kurosawa’s Stray Dog disrupts clear graphical construction in a scene by filming through a beaded doorway, therefore creating a disrupted and blocked view of the film’s two main protagonists. In the continuity editing system ‘the camera remains relatively unobtrusive, seldom drawing attention to its mediating presence.’ (1) to facilitate this unobtrusive camera style directors’ choose clear and unobstructed views of action which won’t draw attention to the fact that we are watching a film. Even if a director chooses an obstructed view we tend to be given a subjective position, one that does not bring attention to the fact that the screens’ images are mediated through a cameraman. If we are given an obstructed view we are given a reason behind the blocked view. The collection of conventions concerning graphical clarity are contradicted in Kurosawa’s Stray Dog. Because we are viewing the action through a beaded doorway we notice our disadvantaged position; we notice how hindered and disrupted our view is and we are offered no reason why we should view from this particular angle. We become conscious of the mediating force that is cinematography. Kurosawa uses this to remind us of the conventions of cinema. Kurosawa uses the technique to disturb our position of knowledge by inferring that all we can perceive is that which the camera, and director, wishes to. Our experience is defined by the mediating force in the same way the characters are defined by what they see. Kurosawa seems to be highlighting this because experience and subjective perception is important in the narrative of Det. Murakawi, both as he learns from the sage Det. Sato and in the revelation of his own similar experiences to the antagonist Shinjiro Yusa; the man with Murakawi’s gun committing the crimes that rack Murakawi with guilt.

 

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog alludes to the Hollywood cinematic forms of Film Noir and the Gangster Film. In one scene a villain, Honda, is called to a front gate of a Baseball stadium by a tannoy system. As he walks down a flight of stairs the screen composition changes and the lighting produces a dark Noir-like affect. Honda, dressed similar to many an archetypal gangster, enters the scene in a normal naturalistic light, however the further he descends down the stairs the further Akira Kurosawa intensifies the sharp contrasting tones producing a chiaroscuro-style scene. Honda wears a white linen pin-stripe suit, as he becomes aware he may be walking into a trap the Camera reverses position and shows only a black silhouette of Honda enveloped by the darkness; his fate is sealed, his relationship with the gun-girl leads to the police locating him, just like many gangster films and film Noirs Honda’s cool command and apparent invincibility is breached through a contaminated relationship with a woman. Honda is a small homage to the doomed antagonist/protagonist of the Noir and gangster films of Hollywood.

 

The skilful use of lighting in this scene is also an allusion to German Expressionism and the stark contrast between subject and surroundings symbolised by Honda’s change from white linen suit to dark silhouette is a typical chiaroscuro technique found in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1920). Paul Schrader notes that a common trait of Film Noir is the use of ‘Shadow effects [which are] unlike the famous Warner Brother’s lighting of the thirties in which the central character was accentuated by a heavy shadow; in Film Noir the central character is likely to be standing in the shadow.’ (2) Kurosawa is using this exact technique in the scene with Honda, he is defining Honda’s character and fate as one in the shadows.

 

Another allusion to Film Noir stylistics is the use of water. Film Noir is noted for an ‘attachment to water. The empty Noir streets are almost always glistening with fresh evening rain… and the rainfall always seems to increase in proportion to the drama.’ (3) As the film moves to a conclusion rain starts to pelt down relentlessly, The rain increases as the potential confrontation between Murakami and the desperate thief Shinjuro Yusa becomes more and more likely and it is in fact the rain, and the mud that sprays onto Yusa’s trousers as he flees after shooting Sato, that allows the confrontation and eventual capture of Yusa.

 

Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog both alludes to Hollywood cinematic genres and contains major divergences from the Continuity System. In this aspect Akira creates a film that contains both national elements of note and internationally recognizable symbols and allusions and therefore Akira has created a brilliant film.

 

1. Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, (2003), p. 312.

 

2. Paul Schrader,’Notes On Film Noir’ in Barry Keith Grant, Film Genre Reader II, Austin: University of Texas Press, (1999) pp. 213-226 p. 219.

 

3. Paul Schrader, ‘Notes On Film Noir’, p. 220.