Garrone Explores Religious Devotion via Society’s Addiction to Reality Television
Gloriously produced and appropriately unhinged, Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone returns for his second trip to the Cannes Competition with this compelling network of topical and important ideas. Pulling from the handbooks of recent films about fame and reality television (i.e. The Truman Show, which it inverts, and Sara Goldfarb’s addiction meltdown in Requiem for a Dream), there’s a Buñuelian scent that wonders into the air around the midpoint that tips off the more devious agenda at play. Eventually, Garrone’s film exposes an endearing kinship to Visconti’s morose Death in Venice. Not as elegant as Visconti, nor as keen as Buñuel, Garrone’s film is, nonetheless, one that holds its weight in this company.
In the drawn out set-up, we meet Luciano (Aniello Arena) who, along with his family, seems to have a slightly more than modest infatuation with the hit Orwellian reality show and its douchebag alumni contestant, Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante). When his kids are out with his wife and spot an open audition to be on the show, they hurry their reluctant dad over to try out, hoping desperately that he will be the next Enzo. When the jury intimates an interest, Luciano’s head quickly swells in anticipation for a phone call with the good news, initiating an obsessive spell of insanity and paranoia.
While the Big Brother House obviously represents some kind of Heaven for Luciano, the truth is that his fantasy of that space is one altogether at odds with His: a playground of hedonistic sin. Suspicious that he is under the constant watch of the jury, he begins to disingenuously alter his everyday life in order to appear superficially ‘good.’ The irony, of course, is that when Luciano changes his life for better by way of giving away his unnecessary possessions and exhibiting infinite politeness, his family rejects him because the end purpose is television, fame, and – naturally – future wealth.
Performances are solid across the board, but it’s really Arena (who, incredibly, was given a prison stay in order to make this film) in a brilliant turn as Luciano that locks it all into place. Exhibiting a childlike naïveté that doesn’t detract at all from the believability of his fully functional family man persona, Arena calibrates Luciano’s descent into delusional obsession so that it never feels out of character; in fact, the cracked traits that surface in the film’s latter half were – in retrospect – always apparent in his behavior.
While a film about trying to be a contestant on Big Brother wouldn’t obviously lend itself to controversial (especially by Italian standards) religious critique, it’s a bold direction that saves the film from falling into single-note oblivion. Offset by a certain repugnant tone of goofiness that intensifies gradually over the running time, Reality‘s overall message will inevitably do well because of it, appealing to and reaching the (predominantly Catholic) masses for which Garrone is inconspicuously attacking.
2012 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition