Jun 18, 2012

L'Ultimo Kiss (by David Kouroyen)

The purpose of this essay is to express the issues and flaws that can arise creating a remake of a foreign film. When a director with a different background remakes a film for a culture different to the originally intended audience, the film itself is modified and potentially hampered, this is especially true for Last Kiss (Tony Goldwyn, US 2006)¸ the American remake of the Italian L’ultimo bacio (Gabriele Muccino, Italy 2001). Some changes were subtle, such as the names of the characters; but more dramatic changes also existed (i.e. removing characters altogether or adding or deleting scenery). The Last Kiss was altered to suit an American audience, which greatly hampered the message and quality of the film, primarily in the areas of a college mentality, sex, and the display of emotion. The main issue is that L’Ultimo Bacio is an Italian story through and thorough, which is what led to its significantly higher rating, box office sales, and national recognition over its American knockoff (David Kouroyen). Read more…

Jun 6, 2012

Gomorrah: no Honor or Tradition

Gomorra (Matteo Garrone, Italy 2008).

“There are no colorful characters in Gomorrah,  Matteo Garrone’s corrosive and ferociously unsentimental fictional look at Italian organized crime; no white-haired mamas lovingly stirring the spaghetti sauce; no opera arias swelling on the soundtrack; no homilies about family, honor or tradition; no dark jokes; no catchy pop songs; no film allusions; no winking fun; no thrilling violence.... 

... Instead, there is waste, grotesque human waste, some of which ends up illegally buried in the same ground where trees now bear bad fruit, some of which, like the teenager scooped up by a bulldozer on a desolate beach, is cast away like trash” (Manohla Dargis, Lesser-Known Mobsters, as Brutal as the OldOnes, New York Times, February 12, 2009).

In late 2007, the Sicilian police found a list of “Ten Commandments” in the hideout of the mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo. They are thought to be guidelines on how to be a good, respectful and honorable mafioso.
1.      No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
2.      Never look at the wives of friends.
3.      Never be seen with cops.
4.      Don't go to pubs and clubs.
5.      Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty — even if your wife is about to give birth.
6.      Appointments must absolutely be respected.
7.      Wives must be treated with respect (7.Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery)
8.      When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
9.      Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
10.  People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.

Are we talking about blood ceremonies, obscure symbols, elaborate codes? Is it the arcane remnants of a defunct culture? According to Diego Gambetta’s The Sicilian Mafia: the Business of Private Protection (1996) Cosa Nostra ten commandments can be considered norms and guidelines for a well working (criminal) organization. Gambetta’s main thesis is that Mafia begins to resemble any other business. In a society where trust is in short supply, this business sells protection: a guarantee for commercial and social transactions. As you understand, this is not a “mythical” interpretation. Mafia here is considered the logical response to existing market conditions. Organized Crime either replaces the State or they coexist in the same territory.
Cosa Nostra cannot be understood outside its historical roots in Sicilian society.  Mafia arose in mid 19th century with the collapse of feudalism and landed aristocracy on one side; the emergence of a new bourgeoisie and the unification of the Italian state on the other. People belonging to the new upper class did not propose and support new type of social development for Sicilian society; they just “moved into villas of aristocracy” and assumed their values. Thus, the class that is the “engine” of any modernization process, did not provide an economic, political and civic leadership when aristocracy collapsed. According to Gambetta (and other scholars) organized crime in Sicily (and in the South of Italy) can be considered as the answer to the absence of a civil society — in other parts of Italy patronage absolved a similar function. Therefore, Mafia arose in a liminal, transitional period: the old social-economical structure was fading away but the passage to a new social-economical order with its legal apparatus (the state) was not completed. In such historical period, Mafia provided the needed protection for the emerging business and new landholding class. Gambetta posits that Mafia protection was a substitute for the absence of institutional and interpersonal trust. The lack of trust in the state is considered as the “cultural spring” for Mafia uprise — the resemblance between Sicily and Russia after the collapse of former Soviet-Union is sticking.

What about Camorra?
This is not a stalactite in a magnificent cavern close to volcanoVesuvio. This is Napoli Center underground, and the stalactites are the result of 200 years of waste disposal exhalations. A strong indicator of the historical presence of Camorra — and of well “grounded” detrimental social, political and cultural attitudes toward the public good (to the costs of people’s health, camorristi included). Camorra’s power structure is horizontal, unlike the hierarchical one of Cosa Nostra.  Distinct clans operate largely autonomously without a single leader — each clan has its own boss. Alliances can be created between clans; that is when Camorra functions like a single organization. Coalitions are maintained only as long as there is equilibrium of power and reciprocal benefits. Sometimes,  a inter-organized crime alliances can be created:  the Casalesi, a group of confederate families, is allied with the Calabria 'Ndrangheta and  Sicily Cosa Nostra. According to the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs (2009) Camorra counted  between 100 and 200 clans, for approximately 10,000 formal  members and 50,000 associate: an army. The area of operation in Italy is mainly in the following regions: Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Molise, Lazio,  Basilicata. Camorra’s international ramifications can be found mainly in: Eastern Europe, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, Portugal, Latin America (Colombia), United States, Canada. All of this to say: Camorra cannot be considered just a local phenomenon.
In its early incarnations the main illegal activities were local criminal and patronage structures, escalating to extortion and 'taxes' on illegal activities, such as prostitution.  Later Camorra interests expanded to counterfeiting, money laundering and smuggling, primarily of drugs. Camorra’s infiltration of local bodies and public administration is evident: the province of Naples has had the most instances of city councils dissolving (44 cases between 1991 and 2007) owing to suspected ties to the Camorra.
One of the most recent criminal “opportunities” for the Camorra is the waste management industry. Hundreds of companies contract the organization’s clans for the disposal of toxic waste; the waste is disposed in a number of ways, including burying it and burning it. The market cost for disposing of toxic waste is between USD 0.21 and USD 0.62 per kg. Camorra offers the same service for a mere USD 0.09 per kg.  According to Italian environmental organization Legambiente, waste trafficking earns organized crime groups around EUR 22 billion (USD 32 billion) per year. Out of the drug trafficking (mainly cocaine) the sole clan Di Lauro earns approximately EUR 300 million (USD 439 million) per year. The annual revenues of the Camorra are around EUR 16 billion (USD 23 billion). Camorristi define themselves “entrepreneurs”.
From another sociological point of view, Camorra has of course a locally based identity which strengthens its social base. The majority of residents have some interest in maintaining the existing system: the family-based clan structure ensures that most residents have family or friendship links to Camorra associates, making it less likely that anyone would betray the group. Camorra offers its own social network, a sense of community (although illegal), and jobs for unemployed young people (cigarette smuggling, drugs or minor crime). Now the approximate meaning of camorra — “organization” — makes more sense. The members of the Camorra prefer to use the word “sistema”, or system, to identify their criminal organization, viewing the group structure as analogous to a business system. Felia Allum, in Becoming a camorrista: criminal culture and life choices in Naples, points out an interesting qualitative and cultural analysis. At its origins, Camorra had a code of conduct for its members — values such as defending one’s honour, respect for all, prestige, personal vendetta and power. According to Allum, by the 1980s these basic traditional values had been manipulated and transformed by the Camorra subculture into new values, based predominantly around business: respect for power and money, strategic use of friends and family, greed. In a certain way, joining nowadays the Camorra becomes a “shortcut to success” — which is not a biographical path that can be relegated only to the organized crime world. The ’50 core values (honour, family and friendship), where transformed in the 80’s to money, social prestige and, most of all,  power: “Beyond the craving for wealth which is undoubtedly an important motive in criminal activities, the Mafia’s  paramount  aim  is  power” (Siebert 1996, 61). And this kind of neo-feudal system of ‘power’, means the control over a territory, over the lives of the people, over social and political activities, over everything: “in its abrogation of absolute power to itself, the power over life and death” (Siebert, 62). 
Exhibitionism is another piece of this cultural mosaic:  “Unfortunately, pathologically, we are exhibitionists, real exhibitionists, you do not undertake a crime if you do not want people to talk about it” (Boss Umberto Ammaturo, Tribunale di Napoli 1994).
Allum’s concluding remark is: “The changes  in motivation  for  joining  the Camorra during the period we have studied reflect closely those of the capitalist society and culture in which it operates and of which it has become the very epitome” (2001, 343).
Other scholarly synthetic propositions, attempting to capture the gist of the  South Italy’s social and cultural phenomenology are:  “great social disintegration” (Gramsci 1930); “amoral familism” (Banfield 1958) ; lack of  in “social capital” (Putnam 1993; Fukuyama 1995). Much more can be written about the relationship between organized crime and others socio-cultural features supporting the Italian modernization process.
I would like to finish this scattered reflection with a question. To which statement you feel closer?
1) “In general, it’s worth to trust people”;
2) You can’t trust people, they will take advantage of you”.
The 70% of young Italians (25-35 years)  picked the second statement (Iard 2007). In Italy, young people have one of the lowest levels of “institutional” and “interpersonal” trust within the Western world. The passage from low trust in Otherness, low trust in the future and low trust in yourself does not sounds as an hazardous conceptual consequential chain to me. Are these young people proud to be Italian?
In 2007 one of my students (Georgetown University) wrote about his pride of being American:
“I am personally proud to say I am an American.  
I am not proud of everything America does and stands for.  
But I have learned to love my home.  
If I didn't love it, I wouldn't have any care or concern to try to change it for the better”.

-     ALLUM, F. (2001) Becoming a camorrista: criminal culture and life choices in Naples, in “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”, 6, 3: 324–347.
-      BANFIELD, E.G. (1958) The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Glencoe: Free Press.
-      IARD (2007) Sesta indagine dell’Istituto Iard sulla condizione giovanile in Italia. Bologna: Il Mulino.
-      COVINO, M. (2009) La Malavita: Gomorrah and Naples, in “Film Quarterly”, 62, 4: 72-75.
-      FBI, Organized Crime in Italy, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/orgcrime/lcnindex.htm.
-      FUKUYAMA, F. (1995) Trust. New York: Free Press.
-      GAMBETTA, D. (1996) The Sicilian Mafia. Harvard: University Press.
-    GRAMSCI, A. (1926/1983) The Southern Question, in The Modern Prince and Other Writings, ed. L. Marks. New York: International Publishers.
-      PINE, J. (2008) Icons and iconoclasm: Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah and La Denuncia, in “Journal of Modern Italian Studies”,13, 3: 431-436.
-      PUTNAM, R.D. (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: University Press.
-      SHELLEY, L.I. (1994) Mafia and the Italian State: the Historical Roots of the Current Crisis, in “Sociological Forum”, 9, 4: 661-672.
-      SIEBERT, R. (1996) Secrets of Life and Death: Women and the Mafia, London: Verso.
-   Tribunale di Napoli, V Sezione Penale, RG 3952/November 1992, Contro Alfieri Carmine + 9, verbale di udienza: Pasquale Galasso (a 15 November 1993), Carmine Alfieri (b 22 April 1994, c 4 May 1994, d 5 May 1994), (e 13 April 1994), (f 17 February 1994), Carmine Schiavone, Umberto Ammaturo (d 5 May 1994).