Criterion is regarded by most collectors as the gold standard for international masterpieces and classic cinema on DVD. This season, it stakes itself out as a player in contemporary international cinema with the release of two acclaimed foreign films: Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (due December 1) and, this week, Matteo Garrone’s sprawling docu-realist drama Gomorrah (Criterion). The signature image of Garrone’s adaptation of Robert Saviano’s non-fiction book, an exposé of the dominance of organized crime in Naples and Caserta, is a pair of teenage boys running around a deserted beach in their underwear while shooting off automatic weapons. (The cover of the Criterion edition transforms the image into a surreal vision of a skinny teenage boy walking through the city like a Godzilla child-man.) That’s as much glamour as you can expect from the this portrait of the mob: emotionally immature boys playing at gangster, oblivious of the reality behind their Tony Montana fantasy.
Set in the poverty of coastal regions of Naples and Caserta, Gomorrah is a long and at times grueling look at five stories of people caught up in the Neapolitan Camorra, the Mafia organization that rules the region. Their hands are in everything, from selling drugs and running guns to the rag trade and, yes, contracts to haul and dump garbage and toxic waste. The sprawl makes it hard to follow and harder to connect with the characters and their stories (I was far more engaged on a second viewing), but it makes its point about the reach of the Camorra and the culture it has spawned. Garrone, who came to features from documentary, he brings a clear-eyed approach to the film and captures an atmosphere of destruction and waste in a landscape of urban blight and poverty. Criterion is releasing the film on both two-disc DVD and single-disc Blu-ray (at the same price, as is their policy), each with the hour-long documentary “Five Stories,” video interviews with Garrone, actor Toni Servillo and author Roberto Saviano, deleted scenes and more.