Synopsis: A film inspired by Italy's obsession with the reality TV show Grande Fratello (the country’s version of Big Brother), it tells the story of a fish merchant from Naples whose infatuation with Grande Fratello leads him to live his life as if he is a star on the show.
Crafty critique of crass TV phenomenon
In a twist worthy of a reality show, in real life the actor is a convicted criminal serving a 20 year prison sentence.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: When television sets first began to enter private homes in the 1950s and 1960s, there was concern that the new medium would "ruin your eyes" if you sat too close. This was especially true, it was believed, for children.
We now know that television isn't necessarily bad for your eyes, but it CAN be detrimental to one's expectations of the world. Because TV has always been a guest in our homes, ordinary people often form a sort of one-way bond with the people they see on TV.
With the coming of so-called 'reality television' – in which people with a limited grasp of the concept of "privacy" offer themselves as fodder for the Gods of Entertainment – television producers tapped into a seemingly bottomless public appetite. Where it had been assumed that viewers wanted to see individuals smarter, more talented and more attractive than themselves, it turned out huge swathes of the viewing public were not averse to watching people with no particular reason to be on TV except that a production entity thought they fit the new criteria for cathode-propelled fame and/or notoriety.
In Matteo Garrone's Reality – which took the Grand Prix (effectively second place) at the 65th Cannes Film Festival – Luciano is an outgoing fellow. He's muscular and fit, clearly in love with his wife and proud of his 3 kids. He owns a fresh fish stand in a run-down corner of Naples.
His wife, Maria, demonstrates a fancy model of food processor at the local mall and her husband is involved in some sort of kickback scam in which neighbours order the device and then return it.
Luciano's modest but full life is altered the day he attends a wedding in a beyond-lavish setting where the highlight is not the exchanging of vows so much as it is a short inspirational visit from 'Enzo', a guy whose claim to fame is that he won the Italian version of the cooped-up-with-others show, Big Brother.
Enzo telles each bride getting married that day that she's "the most beautiful" bride and spouts harmlessly encouraging platitudes about believing in one's dreams and never giving up.
Luciano, who has always been game to dress up in silly outfits and tell jokes for the amusement of friends and family, wrangles a photo of himself and his daughter with Enzo. His ambitions really don't extend much beyond that. But his family thinks he should enter auditions for the show that made Enzo a star.
So, Luciano – whose powers of persuasion, it must be said, are considerable – wrangles an audition in Rome. Bit by bit, Luciano becomes convinced that he'll get a call-back and will be chosen as one of the contestants. He starts to see signs that the show's producers are benignly spying on him, vetting his personality.
And what began as a lark gradually tips into full-blown lunacy. Luciano becomes seized by a condition his doctor calls 'Big Brother Fever'. The prognosis? He won't recover until the show is over.
Aniello Arena's performance as Luciano is flat out amazing. His transition from ordinary guy to major loon is told in always believable increments.
And, in a twist worthy of a reality show, in real life the actor is a convicted criminal serving a 20 year prison sentence. He acted in the film during the day and slept in prison each night.
Director Garrone, whose Gomorrah (which also won the Grand Prize at Cannes, in 2008), was a harrowing account of how the Mob has its tentacles in everything and then some, here turns his talents to comedy and satire. The opening shot alone, which follows a horse drawn carriage through the streets of Naples en route to the wedding estate, is worth the price of admission.
Making excellent use of his physically distinctive and fearless cast, Garrone takes us into Luciano's head, which is an increasingly goofy place to be. Luciano's family supports his dream up to a point, but when they try to bring him back down to earth, all his tethers are long gone.
Could it be that believing in one's dreams is a really bad idea or will Luciano have the last laugh?
Reality is a worthy 21st century companion to The King of Comedy and To Die For.
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