Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone couldn’t have really opted for something much more different for his next feature, for though it boasts the same piercing authenticity as Gomorrah, Garrone paints with a savagely satirical brush this time around. The first person we meet in Reality is Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), a Big Brother star attending a function to a rapturous response from the crowd; we quickly observe the seemingly senseless idolatry that goes with his celebrity status, and we wonder, what has he actually done to deserve such plaudits?
While hardly the most inventive or unique satire, Reality is clever and surreal, observing how far reality TV’s grasp has reached, with children even being held in its obsessive thrall now, enthusiastically turning up to watch the auditions for the new Big Brother series. Garrone touches on people’s desperation merely to mean something, no matter if it’s in such a gross, culturally de-evolved way as being a participant in a vapid game show.
When we first meet Luciano (Anielleo Arena), he’s dressed in drag, making it clear he probably isn’t happy with his identity from the outset. With his tireless efforts to get onto the Italian version of Big Brother – at the behest of his family – comes a wave of optimism from the local townsfolk, gleaning a small amount of vicarious pleasure from his exciting adventure, even if it’s clear to the viewer that things are sure to blow up in his face.
Both hilarious and disturbing are the small inflexions and characteristics that emerge in Luciano the more he appears to flirt with success; a woman at his fish stall doesn’t recognise him from the audition process, and he takes it personally, much like an extroverted celebrity might do. Furthermore, when his temper flares up, he becomes paranoid as to who was around to see it; in his own mind, he is already a cog in the media machine. The invention of his own sense of celebrity is only further egged on by his equally deluded family, playing down any signs of failure, completely assured that he will make it onto the show.
It all gets a little scary by act three, evoking Scorsese’s The King of Comedy as reality, indeed, begins to set in, and his self-imposed “celebrity arc” enters the period of downfall. The final sequence, an unsettling, dialogue-free scene, is agreeably ambiguous, and a potent exclamation point on Garrone’s statement about the damning power of misplaced aspiration. Arena’s central performance – which you’ll be stunned to know is his first role – is a striking debut, both darkly funny and achingly sad.
Like Garrone’s Gamorrah, it’s messy and bloated, but Reality is also a fiendishly amusing, eerie examination of the current trends of celebrity.
Reality is released in UK cinemas March 22nd, 2013.
This article was first posted on May 18, 2012