Amateur actor, serious mafioso: Gomorrah star jailed for crime links


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The Independent Culture

Cinema's ambiguous relationship with organised crime has been dramatically underlined after the jailing of an actor from the hit film Gomorrah for Mafia links.

Giovanni Venosa played a local boss in the award-winning 2008 film, an unflinching look at the activities of the notorious Naples Mafia, the Camorra. The film was based on the book by the journalist Roberto Saviano, who has had 24-hour police protection since writing his exposé of the crime syndicate.

In one scene lifted from the Saviano book, the character played by Venosa tells two younger Mafiosi: "Ve taglie a chep." In the local dialect, the phrase means: "I'll cut your heads off."

On Monday afternoon, the court in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, near Caserta, outside Naples, sentenced Venosa to 13 years and 10 months after he was found guilty of racketeering and Mafia association. The prosecutor Luigi Landolfi had asked for a 24-year term.

The court declared Venosa guilty of extortion in 2008 and 2009, even though he was spending time in this period at a correction facility in San Giuliano Saliceta, near Modena in the north of Italy. The court heard how he would still travel down to Castel Volturno, near Naples, to resume his criminal activities.

Many shopkeepers and business owners in the area were terrorised into paying Venosa protection money, prosecutors said. Police and magistrates finally began an investigation in to the racket after a tip-off from the former mayor of Castel Volturno, Francesco Nuzzo.

Gomorrah, an exposé of the criminal activities of the Casalesi and other Camorra clans, has been translated into numerous languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. The film, directed by Matteo Garrone, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.

Mr Garrone deliberately recruited amateur actors from the Camorra-infested areas of Naples and surrounding towns to give his film the gritty feel of the book.

Mafia expert Corrado De Rosa said: "Garrone wanted the Caravaggio look, the grimy realism as well as the beauty, that why he hired people who he knew had links with clans."

There were rumours in the Italian press the film-makers made undeclared payments to Camorra clans in exchange for their co-operation.