Opening shot: a bird’s eye view of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the background, as if God were gazing at his Creation. Director Matteo Garrone’s camera glides toward some unknown destination, a shot which is set to the sound of the enchanting Alexandre Desplat-composed score (in affect, at least, it’s reminiscent of the “Nutcracker Suite”). We get closer to earth when, steadily, a white horse-drawn carriage, festooned with tall red feathers, appears in the frame as the camera starts tracking it.
The fascination we hold with immortality.
If you were told that you can achieve glory and fame, how would you react? If you’re like the average person, you’ll believe in it, hoping for the phone call with its frothy promise and eventually move on to other things when realizing that it was all a dream.
Not so for Luciano, the main character in Matteo Garrone’s new film “Reality.” After getting the call from the studio saying he had made the first cut in a casting call for the reality T.V. show “Grande Fratello” (“Big Brother”) and to wait for more news, he slides into full-blown paranoid megalomania. Watching him wait anxiously is comical at first, until his affliction (it’s very much a mental state, the man is going cuckoo) threatens to take him and his family down, and then it’s not fun anymore.
Garrone, who paired up with screenwriter Massimo Gaudioso again for this project (they’d worked on “Gomorra” together), said of the Luciano character during a recent press conference that “he’s a Pinocchio for the modern age,” fabricating tall tales and believing in them. Luciano (played by a well-known theatre actor by the name of Aniello Arena) believes people from the T.V. show are spying on him to verify that what he told them during the casting interview was accurate. Although the aspiring television star isn’t portrayed as a religious person, he attempts to put God on his side by piling up the good deeds, buying a bum something to eat and giving away his and his wife’s furniture. Or maybe he just wants to look good in front of the people he thinks are watching him. Luciano’s descent into madness becomes the focal point of the story, his family watching in horror as he loses control completely.
Garrone set “Reality” in a working-class neighborhood of Naples, Italy’s Bayou, a place so particular because so far from our own clean suburban streets and Sam’s Clubs. The decaying three-story houses of the neighborhood are postcard-perfect. Families go to the town square to buy tripes at the tripperia, and fish at the pescheria owned and run by Luciano. But because their business doesn’t bring in enough Luciano and his wife, played by Loredana Simioli, run a racket buying and reselling kitchen robots. It’s a tenuous life and you really want for something good to happen to them.
Filmmakers who present movies in Cannes are constantly compared to their past performances, in the case of Garrone, it’s “Gomorra,” a film with social and political implications. That relevance and dramatic heft are absent from “Reality.” But the story is a compelling one and Aniello’s tortured-yet-euphoric portrayal of Luciano the fishmonger is fascinating to watch. Garrone sharpens his ability as storyteller and amazes with “Reality.” Bravo!