Reality (2012)

My review for Film4.

Synopsis: Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) directs and co-writes this satire on a society addicted to reality televisionas a live-action/CGI/3D extravaganza.

Review: After winning the Cannes Grand Jury Prize and various other international awards for his sprawling crime drama Gommorah (2008), director Matteo Garrone has changed direction with his follow-up Reality – even if both films share a Neapolitan setting. For while Gomorrah anchored multiple storylines to a relentlessly downbeat naturalism, the single narrative of Reality maintains a comically absurdist tone in the face of some potentially dark themes, and is more preoccupied, despite its title, with artifice and delusion than with any straightforward kind of realism.

Indeed, Reality has far more in common with Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), from its opening helicopter shots to its broader vision of a nation infatuated with, and made fatuous by, the emptiness of celebrity. Except that where Fellini’s classic film heralded the hedonism of the Sixties (and gave the world the word paparazzi, derived from the name of one of its characters), Reality’s focus on television’s Big Brother and the spirit of Berlusconi-era ‘bunga bunga’ already makes it seem somewhat behind its times.

Exhibitionist fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Areno, in his film debut) grows more and more obsessed with becoming a reality television star, eventually sacrificing to this quixotic dream the more tangible reality of his business and family life – not to mention his sanity. His retreat into fantasy is shot wide by DP Marco Onorato in majestically choreographed long takes, with the big frames and glitzy colours conjuring a flashy, flamboyant world for this larger-than-life character – and yet, as Luciano is seduced by style away from substance, the contrast between surface and depth is hammered home so hard and so often that the film itself loses all subtlety, becoming just the sort of superficial confection that it satirises.

In A Nutshell: As gaudy and glitzy as the superficialities it lampoons, Mateo Garrone’s Reality is a Fellini-esque fantasia without the counterweight of Fellini’s thematic complexity.