Cannes Winner ‘Reality’ From ‘Gomorrah’ Director Matteo Garrone

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Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Matteo Garrone is a notable talent. His highly acclaimed 2008 film “Gomorrah” earned praise around the world and the follow-up, “Reality,” won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It’s a step down from his previous work as it’s less ambitious and doesn’t quite come together but it features enough interesting ideas about our fame-obsessed culture to see why it connected with the French fest jury. And it does nothing to stop that feeling that Garrone is a major filmmaker.

It makes sense that a film called “Reality” opens with a very abnormal event — a wedding in a horse-drawn carriage with people dressed like clowns and lords & ladies while doves fill the air. This is not a common, everyday “Reality.” And Garrone’s film is about a man in a very dull, plain reality who gets a glimpse of the heightened one on his country’s hit TV show, “Big Brother.” The result is not unlike Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” as filtered through Fellini, even if it’s not quite as accomplished as that incredible mash-up might make it sound.

Photo credit: Oscilloscope

Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a hit in his small town near Naples. He’s just a local fishmonger but he’s one of those guys who turns into an entertainer at weddings. “You got to go on TV!” his friends and family shout. And his daughter is a huge fan of “Big Brother.” When the show comes to audition in the local mall, his daughter pushes him into auditioning. He gets the callback to Rome, where he spends an hour talking to the show psychologist. Luciano takes this as a good sign. It’s probably not.

The next act of “Reality” features the unraveling of an already-edgy man. Luciano becomes convinced that he’s in some sort of real-world audition, that the producers of “Big Brother” have sent people to watch him in his normal existence as a fishmonger. Here’s where “Reality” gets thematically fascinating. Luciano starts behaving like he arguably should in the eyes of God because he thinks he’s being watched by a TV producer. Shouldn’t we always be kind to others? Things get really problematic when Luciano sells his fishstand to spruce up the house for interviews that will probably never come.

Photo credit: Oscilloscope

Garrone has a real visual confidence, finding poetry in “Reality” even when he claims he just set out to make a traditional comedy, a total change of pace from “Gomorrah.” We always seem to be behind the characters, trying to keep up with them or eavesdropping, not unlike reality TV, but it deadens the pace at times. I guess I wanted a commercial break sometimes or something to spruce up the inevitable sad ending for Luciano. The coda is surprisingly touching and interesting but it’s a bit too late for the dead pace of the mid-section after Luciano sells his stand.

As for the ensemble, Anella sometimes feels too exaggerated but the rest of the cast feels genuine, as if most of them were actually old ladies from a small town near Naples. Loredana Simioli and Nando Paone, as Luciano’s wife and friend, feel more honest than Anella but he does have a very difficult role. The cast really isn’t to blame as to why “Reality” only skirts with excellence. There’s just a pacing problem. It’s a film with more than enough interesting ideas but dull thematic execution. Garrone seemingly set out to make a comedy about reality TV obsession and ended up with much more of a drama. The problem with that is that a satire/comedy may have had more edge than this character piece about a guy who can’t quite figure out why no one is watching him but God.

“Reality” stars Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, and Nando Paone. It was written and directed by Matteo Garrone and opens at the Music Box in Chicago on March 29, 2013. content director Brian Tallerico

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