TORONTO - Can life really be as bad as this? The shocking answer to that question is what makes Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah," an adaptation of Roberto Saviano's bestselling expose of Neapolitan crime, one of the best films screened at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.

The 2008 Grand Prize winner at Cannes, "Gomorrah" brilliantly weaves five storylines from Saviano's mammoth muckraker about Naples' Camorra family.

With powers that extend far beyond Italy, these mobsters currently rake in more than $233 billion per year from drugs, waste management, the high-end fashion industry and pirated knockoffs channeled from China through their businesses.

"Gomorrah" ends, in fact, with this disturbing factoid. New York's Twin Towers are being rebuilt partially with Camorra money. Think of that when those post 9/11 beacons of freedom and democracy finally shine in the sun.

"When I started shooting I thought things would be very black and white about the people in the Camorra. But it was grey jungle where everyone is fighting for survival," director Garrone told during his whirlwind TIFF visit.

As the 40-year-old painter-turned-filmmaker says, "I never wanted to make such a movie that was so dark. But I had to tell the truth."

Unveiling the real-life face behind the mob

That harrowing truth begins with 13-year-old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese).

Toto's a good kid living with his mom in the prison-like housing projects of the Neapolitan suburb of Scampia. Yet the innocent boy is keen on joining the Camorra. Eventually he leads some teenage thugs to his favourite customer. The brutes shoot the woman down in her doorstep.

There's the cocky waste management boss Franco (Toni Servillo) who illuminates his new, decent young assistant Roberto (Carmine Paternoster) to the reprehensible way he does business.

Mob money-runner Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a distasteful worm who collects and distributes clan earnings, skulks about the screen like the grim reaper in a cheap suit.

Master tailor Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo) works for the Camorra by day and moonlights in a Chinese factory at night for more money. Once caught by the mob, the double-crosser is spared. He's needed to run the Camorra's lucrative fashion sidelines.

Finally there's Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone). Obsessed with the gangster film "Scarface," these crazy teens play at heists like kids at birthday party.

"Honestly I had no idea that this kind of life was a reality just a couple of hours away from Rome," says director Garrone, who first made his mark with films such as "Guests" and "The Embalmer."

The reality, as viewers discover, is that everyone from eight to 80 is touched in some way by the Camorra.

Instead of fighting back, generations of families simply join in.

"It's very easy to fall into this whole mechanism the Camorra operates," says Garrone.

"We can ask 'How can people not know?' 'How can they live this way?' But many people aren't aware of the conditions in which they are living. It's just how things are."

Garrone's flick gets unexpected help in Naples

Garrone was not daunted by Saviano's massive tome or the fact that death threats had been fired at the author since the book's publication.

"Everyone in Italy said no movie could ever be made from this book. It was just too big," says Garrone.

Two weeks after Saviano's book hit stores Garrone set out to secure the film rights.

"When I arrived in Naples to shoot within this ecosystem, I wasn't sure what I would find," says Garrone. Yet the local citizens were surprisingly open to his project.

"Many times I'd have up to 40 people behind me while I was shooting," says Garrone. "I wasn't judging them. I was reporting on this world the way a war correspondent tells stories from the front. That's what made the difference."

Can "Gomorrah" can change the reality of Neapolitan life under the Camorra? Not likely.

"They say even the smallest story can change things for the better. I am not so sure that I can be that optimistic in this case," says Garrone.

If there is some hope in "Gomorrah's" cold, glaring outrage, it comes when the young apprentice to the waste management louse says, "No, I won't work with you."

The boss mocks the boy's decision to go home to his decent, hard-working family and try to earn an honest living. But if one person can say no to such insidious crime and social corruption perhaps others can, too.

"If people liked this film, in Toronto and at Cannes, it's because it touched them on a universal level," says Garrone. "I may not change the world with this movie but I did a good job."