by Francesca McCaffery
Garnering the illustrious Grand Prix at Cannes this year, Reality is an Italian film that is much more American in nature than we would want to believe possible. Following up his gritty, grimy crime drama Gomorrah, director Matteo Garrone is a master at keeping it real while telling a profound story about humanity in its most vulnerable state.(It helps that Garrone has a natural talent for finding brilliant non-actors. His lead actor is actually a prisoner who had to get permission to come to set and film.)
Shot in the city of Naples, Reality opens taking us right into a city that is grimy and filled with the sweat and dirt of every day people hustling and struggling. Crammed into tiny apartments together, with extended families living several to a room, you can smell the city of Naples from the beautiful opening. His story centers around Luciano (an amazing Aniello Arena), a local fishmonger who is busy unloading robotic pasta-makers for extra cash with his wife, and trying to make a decent living for the entire family. Apparently, the reality show Big Brother is somewhat of a major obsession in Italy in its own incarnation there, and at a friend’s wedding, the dorky hipster “Enzo” from the cast makes a paid appearance, wishing the bride and groom congrats. As a gag, Luciano dresses a woman and schticks around for a few moments with Enzo, garnering a cherished photo with Enzo for his daughter. When sweetly bull-dozed by cellphone by the same daughter, as well as his amused wife, to come to the mall for an “audition” for Big Brother, Luciano at first refuses, not really caring a bit. But then, to make everyone happy and shut them up, he decides to go. What follows is a long and winding trip into the psyche of someone who trades his life for a profound, inexplicable fantasy version, and it is completely mesmerizing to watch.