Reality is the next film after Matteo Garrone’s well received and winner of the 2008 Grand Prix Award “Gomorrah”. His latest effort is a change of pace as it’s meant to be a comedy rather than a gritty drama but there are certain similarities in both. In each film Garrone gives you a level of intimacy that gives a depth to the characters as well as a fresh perspective on the issues that face Italian society as a whole. On top of this although stated as a comedy that isn’t entirely true as the film unravels itself into a more tragic affair. Reality itself was the Grand Prix winner at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as well. It is based on a true story as events in this film actually happened to someone he knew.
The film starts with a fairytale-esque wedding which is brazenly decadent and full of life and colour. It appears as a dream and by the end of it when the people make their way back home to their modest but dingy houses and remove the fabrication of the occasion you see reality set back in and the whole theme of film is made apparent.
Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a hard working, fishmonger man who does everything to support his family. (including a small scale illicit activity, to help them get by) He is an entertainer at heart and can light up the room with his presence. In his part of town he is quite the “celebrity” and is loved by his friends, family and Town’s folk a like. At the wedding he gets a whiff of actual stardom in the form of Enzo, the previous years winner of Big Brother who attends the wedding a special guest. It is here and throughout the film a false friendship is made between Enzo and Luciano mirroring the false friendship Luciano has between himself and fame.
He is not one to disappoint his family and will do anything to provide a better life for them so when they coerce him into auditioning for Big Brother he obliges to make sure they keep a smile on their faces. At first he’s not too fussed about auditioning and only does it to appease them but after a while when he gets through a few auditions and eventually realises that if he gets on the show he could escape his existence and start his life a new and so he begins to get obsessed over it. He also becomes superstitious and thinks everyone is looking at him when maybe no one is. It also gives the whole town hope placing their faith in him as a person who will lift them all out of their own working class lives if only for a moment. In the end it comes down to this one phone call is he in the show or not? Everything he has achieved in life is put on pause as he awaits the announcement and loses sight of what makes him a very important person in his own home as he becomes a stranger to his own suffering wife (Loredana Simioli) and children. The way the film is shot with drawn out scenes where the camera just lingers a little longer makes it feel more serious that his entire life as he knows it is hanging in the balance of this one decision and even if he does achieve what he desires, does it actually matter? and was it worth it?
It’s a rather misplaced dream putting all your faith into television show that can leave you in the lurch as easily as it can launch you into success and wealth. This idea is shown through the two contrasting houses, The Church and The Big Brother house. The old house of God seems drab in comparison to the new, more enticing, house of Big Brother, this illustrates where the priorities perhaps lie in modern Italian society as the faith in God is being lost (or becoming less important) and the faith is instead being renewed in something far less substantial in the false idol of reality TV.
Matteo Garrone takes a different stance on someone who is losing his sanity and as a result it is more subtle in the way it hits you because the character of Luciano has this child like wonder about him as he gets caught up in the idea of this glamorous world that awaits him. This is reflected in the fact that the actor who portrays him Aniello Arena is a former member of the Criminal orginisation Camorra and has been serving out a prison sentence in the last 20 years for criminal involvement with them including murder. He was eventually allowed to be released during the day to film this movie as Matteo saw something in him having spotted him during a prison theatre performance. He definitely brings a unique take on the role of someone who is losing touch with reality as Aniello Arena has gone from his own reality of prison into the dream world of cinema. It’s fascinating to watch.
The opening and ending to the film are fantastic complimentary book ends to the story of Luciano as the ending is ambiguous and plays straight into the film’s mixture of fantasy and reality. This idea isn’t anything too original and has been done many times before but this film takes its own approach to it and Matteo Garrone adds a certain flare that gives it enough bite for it to transcend the vapid entertainment it satirises.