Matteo Garrone’s Gamorra was an international success – despite the Oscar snub. The dense, stoically paced Italian crime drama was attractively elusive, giving viewers something to mull over on their way out of the theater. Reality, the director’s new film, explores a much different world than Italian mafioso, while keeping his phantom touch.
Reality follows Luciano, a fishmonger running a pescetaria in the heart of small Neapolitan village. Despite owning his store, along with brother Michele, money is tight. To make ends meet, the brothers scam locals by renting out an all-in-one pasta robot, provided by Maria, Luciano’s wife. While the trick adds the much needed lira in the family bank account, the constant anxiety is no way to live. But Luciano has a plan.
During a family wedding, Luciano encounters the popular (and lavishly attractive) Enzo, the reality-tv star of Big Brother (Grande Fratello). The fish-monger projects his dreams onto the celebrity saying if I could only have this, it would be la dolce vita. So, when the local mall is holding tryouts for the reality show, Luciano auditions, despite doubts of being picked. But when his telephone rings to inform him he’s advancing to the next round, how far will Luciano go to ensure a place in the world of reality TV?
Aniello Arena (in his debut) is engaging as the hopeful Luciano, believing that enough good deeds will be noticed by the executives of Big Brother – who are apparently watching his every move to bring him TV fame. The aspiring “reality” star is admirable and flawed, thus believable – making his inevitable descent much more heartbreaking. Yet, at the end of Reality, Mr. Arena is successful at playing a bluff, convincing his family and audience that he holds a flush.
Loredana Simoli plays Maria, the matron leader of the family ensemble. Not only is she a talented actress, but beautiful to boot. Though the narrative revolves around Luciano, it’s difficult not to concentrate on Simoli when the couple share the screen. Nando Paone fills as Luciano’s saintly brother, Michele, hoping his fratello‘s obsession is a passing fad. Though Paone is almost silent throughout Reality, his role is certainly memorable.
In 2007, Quentin Tarantino chided contemporary Italian cinema, calling it “depressing” and “all the same.” After the height of cinema Italiano in the 60’s-70’s, the industry surely plateaued, much like their neighbors in France. The films being exported lacked the enthusiasm of their predecessors, preferring a nostalgic thermidor. While this period provided outstanding achievements – Beningi’s Life is Beautiful and Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso – the directors lacked the consistency and ambition of their forebearers. Lucky for us, Garrone strikes a powerful chord in Italian cinema, one that rings an echo of the old, and that should appease Mr. Tarantino.
Reality is Italian fable with a soft surface and serious consequences. One gleans from the font used in promotions the narrative will be a skewed reality – but one that isn’t hard to imagine. At moments we live vicariously in Luciano and Maria’s household, seeing the slow destruction of the family, while others we observe as if it were reality television, with aesthetically pleasing horror – yet we’re always engrossed. Though the ending may not be conclusive, it is certainly satisfying.
Reality is now playing in NY and LA.