Todos Contentos y Yo Tambien Napoli
Francesco Patierno’s Camorra is as powerful and astonishing as a non-fiction film can get. The film tells a compelling story about one of the oldest and largest crime organisations in Italy, the Camorra, following its developments from the 1960s to the 1990s. Relying entirely on archive footage, the audience is faced with the real life and the drama of decades of crime struggles in Campania, Napoli, portraying the raw reality that gave birth to the criminal organisation of today. Camorra is thoughtful and tragic – thrilling but at the same time poetic – accompanied by beautiful Neapolitan music.
Patierno did months of research at the Rai Teche, the archives of the Italian state broadcaster. He selected and edited the footage – much of it never seen before – into a mosaic that depicts the region’s rotten heart.
The film provides us with facts, but, most importantly, it recreates the period with a sense of emotion in which there is never a dull moment.
«Napoli is not a rebel city.»
The documentary builds an argument of how social, economic and political factors have contributed in creating a region astray. «Napoli is not a rebel city,» a woman tells us in a voiceover in the first sequence of the film.
«Naples is an addiction, which allows the preservation of a state of balance within the deep imbalances between its social classes. In Naples, no social revolution occurred.»
The narration is deliberately kept to a minimum, while the soundtrack of the film adds to our feeling of space and context. Beautiful Neapolitan music – together with the newscasts announcing new statistics and murders – create a sense of drama and an urgency of the unseen. The newscasts seem to be the daily narrative of the city. We see some disturbing things (a murder captured by a surveillance camera; images of poverty; children smoking in the street), and the palpable sense of danger creates an image of what also is unseen but certainly present.
After WWII, the Napoli region was not only poor but also largely abandoned by Italian authorities. Poverty was widespread, and there were no jobs or economic perspectives. People started making marginal incomes through the illegal trade of cigarettes – something that was tolerated by the authorities. Many people survived by participating in the illegal contraband.
«It becomes easy to understand how the struggles blurred the lines between normality and abnormality.»
The woman in the voiceover explains the mechanisms of how things worked. As long as the purpose of the illegal trade was survival, the authorities were willing to turn a blind eye and profit from the trade. In the middle of all of this, the Camorra got its foothold by adding order to a place that was in desperate need of it – improving the living conditions of the poor, while keeping the citizens under a certain degree of control.
The organisation generated many jobs and created at the same time a system of power that had an impact on everyone’s life. But eventually, it got out of control.
The «system of honour» comes to an end.
At first the Camorra seemed to be comprised of a containable number of clans that fought over territory. But as drugs replaced cigarettes, which involved gangsters from Sicily and Marseille, the Camorra gangs had no choice but to become subordinates. As «big crime» took over, the old local system of honour disappeared and gang killings became routine. The whole situation turned into a mess with no clear rules – no one knew who was who anymore.
Camorra builds up chronologically. The story is comprehensive, a vivid portrayal of life lived during those decades of widespread poverty and crime. The faces of the people, the true stories they tell and the realities of their lives are haunting. They showcase the unimaginable and it all becomes tangible on the screen. Behind each person interviewed – among them many children – is a terrible drama, a world that is as terrifying as it is magnetic.
As the big picture is revealed, it becomes easy to understand how poverty and the struggles of the people blurred the lines between normality and abnormality. The rawness of the footage is arresting. Seeing the violence and misery becoming routine makes you feel numb. There is something profoundly troubling, especially when the children are interviewed. They are small and vulnerable, yet they seem hungry, ruthless and as dangerous as they can be. Since this is their normal life, they speak candidly about their experiences and about what they do. Armed robberies, drugs and prostitution are the normal landscape of these kids.
Troubling also are the interviews with Raffaele Cutolo, who up until this day is still in jail. Cutolo was the man that unified the Camorra in a period when all the clans became subservient to the mafia. He brought with him a sense of purpose, but at the same time he brought more criminal activities with him, remaining in charge for a long time, even from behind bars. His unreliable eyes, the ways in which he plays with words, dressed up in a designer suit and acting like there is no worry in his mind, make it clear that he’s on top of things. He is only a criminal behind bars symbolically, as in reality the bars mean nothing.
The story of the Camorra is one of many layers. The Camorra became everyone. You see it in the faces of the children. It’s in the voice of the authorities, explaining that there is no other way for civilians to survive, except from the illegal trade. And in the long term there is no such thing as balance between rights and wrongs in tolerating crime. Crime means there is always someone who gains and someone who loses. And then the entire society loses – no one is truly safe or without blame.