Thursday, March 28, 2013
Now here's a conversation piece. "Gomorrah" writer-director Matteo Garrone returns five years later with "Reality," about the fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Arena), a young husband and father from Napoli who, a few weeks after meeting Enzo, the most famous contestant from the Italian version of "Big Brother," at a wedding (Luciano, always the life of the party, played a blue-wigged drag queen), himself auditions for the show, arriving late to an open call at a shopping mall and talking his way into a screen test.
What began as the fulfillment of his kids' request to try out slowly gives way to obsession. All his life, everyone's told Luciano he should be on TV, and he convinces himself he will be chosen. When two unfamiliar ladies buy some clams and snapper at his pesceteria and mention that they're in town from Rome, Luciano is sure they're spies from the show, there to vet his application. He turns away a beggar who asks for something to eat, then reconsiders when a well-dressed stranger at the shoe stand across the plaza looks at him and writes in his notepad. Soon, he's buying the beggar pizza and pastries - and brandy - and before long, giving away furniture from his family's apartment. With Luciano sprawled on the couch for hours at a time, watching the simpering inanities of "Big Brother," his marriage nears the breaking point.
Throughout this descent into madness, Garrone never reduces Luciano to a mere butt of jokes (though there's a great moment when his uncle pranks him into thinking he's been selected for the new season). Instead, Garrone focuses on the relatable aspects of Luciano's story. We've all imagined what it would be like to be famous (even if only for being famous), and entertained - if not delusions of grandeur - then at least daydreams of possibilities above our station. Garrone - helped by a poignant and empathic performance by Arena - shows us that in Luciano which is universally human. That Arena is a lifer in Italian prison who shot the film on a series of daylong furloughs only heightens the uniquity of this hypercolor "Reality."