Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Claudia Gerini
Running Time: 115 mins
Release: March 22
There’s someone like Luciano (Arena) in every family; the ‘character’, the one the grand-kids and aunties think is hilarious but who most of us cringe in embarrassment at, so tiresome is their schtick. When we first meet him, he’s at a family wedding, in drag, playing up a fabricated history with Enzo, a ‘Grande Fratello’ (Big Brother) celebrity with the catchphrase “Never Give Up” who appears at weddings and nightclubs, to enraptured audiences and screams of adoration. Luciano has no initial desire to have Enzo’s success, even as he notices both its scale and the lack of talent required to create it. Then his family happen across some Big Brother auditions in a local shopping mall and press-gang him into trying out. It’s not long before Luciano starts to think he might actually get on the show.
As satire, Reality isn’t especially effective. It’s not shocking, doesn’t really have anything different to say about reality TV culture and isn’t funny enough to make the whole enterprise seem farcical. Luciano goes to great lengths to get on the show and his obsession nearly consumes him, but even being aware of Italy’s unique style of celebrity obsession (check out Erik Gandini’s fantastic documentary, Videocracy) doesn’t lend this any great power. It’s just a personal story, told and acted quite well, that isn’t especially compelling.
That’s not to say it’s entirely devoid of merit, as the camerawork alone elevates everything beyond mere spectacle. The opening and closing sequences are beautiful; Fellini style swooping crane shots through Naples and Rome respectively. The rest of the film is shot in a fantastic verité style that lends everything an ironic air of realism while Luciano goes to ever more ridiculous lengths to get on the show. The majority of the film is shot in Naples, and the whole area is made to look absolutely gorgeous. Garrone knows how to compose a shot, and Gomorrah showed what a fantastic filmmaker he is, but Reality has shown his strengths are not in satire. As Luciano, Aniello Arena does a terrific job holding the film together, but when your leading man’s story (Aniello is serving a life sentence and shot the film while on day release) is more compelling than that of your narrative, there’s a problem.