A new comedy, 'Reality', directed by Matteo Garrone.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Somehow, I never think about
Europeans watching television. In my mind, they are always sitting at cafés,
drinking espresso, smoking and marching against budget cuts. But globalization
means that they spend time watching inane TV like the rest of the world. And
this is perhaps especially true in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi was not only a
controversial and corrupt prime minister but also a media magnate who owned
several television channels. So it’s not surprising that during the era he ran
the country and its media, no one went broke underestimating the taste of the
Italian public, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken.
It turns out that Italy has
its own Big Brother, Grande Fratello, and a man who dreams about competing in
the reality show is the subject of the new comedy, Reality, directed by Matteo
Garrone burst onto the world scene with the starkly violent
crime drama Gomorrah
in 2008. In 2012, his film Reality
won the Grand Jury Prize
at Cannes in a highly competitive year. It’s very different from Gomorrah
is a wry comedy about how the lust for fame has reshaped people’s lives.
In Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love
, he featured a plotline about an ordinary
man, played by Roberto Benigni, who is suddenly stalked by the paparazzi for no
apparent reason and finds that the attention drives him crazy. Reality
opposite story: A man goes crazy because he does not realize his dream of
becoming a television star.
It stars Aniello Arena as Luciano, a
Neapolitan fishmonger whose family insists he try out for the latest edition of
. Arena, whose performance is utterly believable as this regular Joe
who becomes progressively more deluded, has an amazing back story. Convicted of
killing three men in mob-related violence in the 1990s, he is serving a life
sentence in prison. He became a stage actor in a prison troupe and eventually
won the lead in Reality
. Maybe his experience helped him relate to his
hero’s desperation. In any case, he gives an amazing, nuanced
In the film, after a second audition at the famous Cinecitta
Studios in Rome, Luciano is convinced that he is going to make it onto the
famous show, even when his name is not announced as one of those chosen.
Gradually, he begins to fall apart when the show continues without
It’s all very well done, with evocative character actors like those
used by Fellini, and settings reminiscent of Vittorio De Sica’s 1960s comedies.
The opening is especially impressive. Luciano and his family and friends
moonlight as wedding entertainers, and the film begins with the wedding of a
working-class couple who are given a theme wedding party where they are treated
like 18thcentury royalty. The most celebrated guest at the wedding is a guy who
appeared on a season of Big Brother
, and so the seed is planted in Luciano’s
The problem with the film, though, is that it’s all a bit obvious,
and nothing could be an easier target than reality television. It’s like
saying that the Kardashians are vulgar. Who’s going to argue with you about
that? There’s a slightly patronizing tone throughout, since almost by
definition, the filmmaker (and perhaps also any art house audience?) is not
taken in by the allure of Big Brother
. This isn’t a movie where you can truly
identify with the hero: You just watch from a distance and feel sorry for
Arena’s performance is pure magic, and he is surrounded by a good
supporting cast. Loredana Simoli is sympathetic as Luciano’s understandably
exasperated wife. Giuseppina Cervizzi plays his niece, who is his biggest
supporter, while Nando Paone plays his gentle cousin, who tries to reason with
But while Arena and the other actors draw you in, often it’s far too
easy to see where the director is taking you. However, Garrone is a stylish and
gifted director, and I’ll be looking forward to his next film.REALITY Hebrew title: Reality
Written and directed by Matteo Garrone
Aniello Arena, Loredana Simoli
Running time: 116 minutes.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.