Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Reality may, like director Matteo Garrone's previous film Gomorrah (2008), be set in Naples, boast an ensemble of characters and even feature a bit of small-time organised crime, but there all resemblances end. For where Gomorrah represented the very essence of fly-on-the-wall naturalism, Reality is a heady, hyperreal confection, with its big frames and bold colours no less larger-than-life than its celebrity-hungry protagonist Luciano (Aniello Arena). And while he is surrounded by an outsize menagerie of family and friends, there is never any doubt that it is Luciano alone who occupies centre stage, with the others merely supporting players. And if Reality is, like Gomorrah, concerned with resistible moral descent, this time Luciano's downward spiral is played for surreal laughs, with any serious lasting consequences carefully kept off the screen.

Luciano is a fishmonger and petty scammer with a flair for clownish performance – so when his family, out shopping one day, see public auditions for the next series of Big Brother, they encourage the flamboyant patriarch to come down and give it a go. Invited to Cinecittà in Rome for the next stage of tryouts, Luciano becomes convinced that he will be on the show's final guestlist. In his obsessive, increasingly delusional pursuit of a place on reality television - where he imagines fame and fortune await - he dismantles piece by piece his domestic reality, and loses his mind.

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Towards the end of Reality, a priest delivers a sermon on the differences between seeming and being, and between what's false and what's true, spelling out in the most literal terms a message that the film has been repeatedly hammering home right from its opening scene. Here, the glittering lure of celebrity may represent a false, empty hope, and the ever-watchful eye of that 'Big Brother' in the sky may all too easily be ignored by those in thrall to entertainment's netherworld version of surveillance reality - but still, no one would accuse Garrone's film of being subtle. On the contrary, it is a strictly one-note parable.

Sure, there is glitzy distraction in DP Marco Onorato's magnificently choreographed long takes, but this aping of Fellini's baroque grandeur forgets to add any of the Italian master's complexity. Reality is concerned with a certain type of superficiality, symptomatic of the here and now (or at least of the recent past, when Big Brother was still big news). Yet surely a film about shallowness need not seem - and be - so shallow itself.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2012
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A fishmonger's fantasies of appearing on Big Brother threaten to ruin his life and that of his family.
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Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso

Starring: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone, Nello Iono, Nunzia Schione, Rosaria D'Urso, Giuseppina Cervizzi, Claudia Gerini, Raffaele Ferrante

Year: 2012

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Italy, France


London 2012

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