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Movie review: 'Reality'


">Director: Matteo Garrone

Stars: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simoli, Nando Paone

Run time: 116 min.

Rating: R (strong language)

Posted 12:58pm on Thursday, May. 02, 2013

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 he’s 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 Italy’s 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 fame’s 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 Luciano’s descent into self-inflicted madness.

Garrone can’t quite sustain the sting of the early sequences and struggles to balance the pathos of Luciano’s deepening obsession with the humor of his family’s 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 doesn’t 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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— Preston Jones

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