R (strong language); 116 min.
Luciano (Aniello Arena), a humble fishmonger in Naples, lives an unremarkable life.
His existence is drab and routine, with days spent selling his scaled wares in an open-air market. But a chance audition for the Italian version of reality TV series Big Brother turns everything upside down, leading Luciano to believe hes meant for something more.
Director Matteo Garrone casts a jaundiced eye upon the reality TV circus in Reality, a stylistic and thematic 180 from his impressive 2008 breakout, Gomorrah. His previous film put viewers in the thick of organized crime, as Garrone considered corruption at almost every level of Italys infrastructure; Reality considers demoralization of an altogether different sort.
Here, Luciano becomes obsessed with appearing on Big Brother (or Grande Fratello), slowly allowing himself and his extended family to be poisoned by fames hollow promises. Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Braucci and Massimo Gaudioso, Garrone employs a satiric tone worthy of Fellini (the opening sequence, full of lengthy takes and set amid a bizarre, opulent wedding, most strongly evokes the late filmmaker) as he charts Lucianos descent into self-inflicted madness.
Garrone cant quite sustain the sting of the early sequences and struggles to balance the pathos of Lucianos deepening obsession with the humor of his familys increased exasperation. Non-professional actor Arena delivers a superb, nuanced turn as the hapless fishmonger, and the film builds to a fanciful conclusion that implies Garrone doesnt necessarily like what he sees when he looks at his country. Reality suggests a simple, unassuming life can be its own reward.
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