After Luciano, the main character in Matteo Garrone’s new film “Reality” (out March 15th) gets the call from a T.V. studio telling him he’s made the first cut in a casting call for the reality T.V. show “Grande Fratello” (“Big Brother”), he gradually slides into full-blown paranoid megalomania. Watching him wait anxiously for the next round of callbacks is comical at first, until his affliction threatens to take him and his family down. It’s just weird. But you want to keep watching.
Garrone, who paired up with screenwriter Massimo Gaudioso again for this project (they’d worked on “Gomorra” together), said of the Luciano character 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 tries to put God on his good side by piling up good deeds. Or maybe he just wants to look good in front of the people he thinks are watching him.
Like “Gomorra” Garrone set “Reality” in a working-class neighborhood of Naples, Italy’s eight mile, a place that’s so far from our own clean suburban streets and Walmarts. And yet, the decaying three-story houses of the neighborhood are postcard-perfect. Life goes on, amid the crime and the deterioration. 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 getting the neighbors to apply for a mean-looking kitchen-appliance robot free of taxes to then resell it in the black market. It’s a hard life and you really want for something good to happen to this family.
“Reality” provides a metaphore about television as being perceived as an instrument of control, a means of social surveillance. By imagining himself being watched by the producers of the aptly-named “Big Brother” Luciano shapes his behavior according to what he thinks they would consider suitable.
With its social and political commentary about a community being dragged into criminality, not without causing collateral damage, “Gomorra” had a strong message to pass. The relevance and gravitas are absent from “Reality,” as are sympathetic characters we would want to root for. “Reality” can be too long at times, too heavy-handed. But the idea of miracle, of what “could be,” is everpresent here and that’s a major redeeming factor, a lively expectation which leads right into the final, memorable, scene. Garrone has weaved together a compelling movie and Aniello’s tortured portrayal of the Luciano the fishmonger is fascinating to watch.
READ our interview with “Reality” screenwriter Massimo Gaudioso
(The quote by Matteo Garrone was obtained during the 2012 Cannes Festival where the film competed for a prize and won the Grand Prix Award)