DIRECTED BY: Matteo Garrone

FEATURING: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Raffaele Ferrante, Nando Paone

PLOT: A Neapolitan fishmonger’s obsession with being selected as a contestant in the Italian version of the “Big Brother” reality television show slowly drives him insane.
Still from Reality (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The critics have been casually throwing around words like surreal, dreamlike, and (most accurately) Felliniesque in regard to Reality. The case is exaggerated, however; Reality is largely based in the titular locale, with some day trips to more exotic locales for satirical and allegorical effect. The (quite lovely) final scene is the only part of the movie that might literally qualify as surreal. It’s a marvelous film and an unusual one, but not quite crazy enough to deserve the title “weird.”

COMMENTS: The unreality of modern hyperreality is the setting for Reality, which begins at an absurdly artificial fairytale wedding at a swanky hotel where the bride and groom arrive in a gilded carriage drawn by white horses. The special guest at the reception is Enzo, who has recently been kicked out of the “Grande Frattelo” house (the immensely popular Italian version of the “Big Brother” reality television franchise); he is now a beloved national hero who makes a living making appearances at wedding receptions, mall openings and nightclubs. Dressed in drag, Luciano, our genial attention-seeking protagonist, ambushes Enzo to steal a little of the spotlight, and his proximity to celebrity ignites a lust for fame in his breast. Charismatic and persistent, Luciano is convinced he is destined to appear on the TV program, a gig he’s certain would provide for his family for life and enable him to quit his job as a struggling fishmonger. His persistence leads to him making the first round of interviews at Cinecittà studios, and, taking the show’s motto of “never give up” to heart, he continues to have faith that he’ll be selected to live in the big house under twenty-four hour surveillance, even when the followup call doesn’t come. As the television season gets closer to beginning Luciano starts to break down, engaging in increasingly erratic behavior designed to grab the attention of the producers he’s convinced are secretly observing him, disguised as ordinary visitors to his fish shop. Reality features an energetic performance by the simultaneously charismatic and annoying Aniello Arena as Luciano, but the camerawork may be as big a star. Smooth, flowing long takes and crane shots take us on tours of the piazzas of old Naploi, which with its baroque balconies and stone staircases looks like a more appropriate setting for a light operetta than a reality show. As a satire, Reality takes the obvious shots at reality television and the shallowness of modern aspirations for meaningless adulation. That top layer of mockery isn’t too interesting, however. Everyone recognizes reality television is trashy. It’s in the development of an ongoing analogy between celebrity-worship and conventional religion that Reality becomes fascinating; this preoccupation also makes the film legitimately Felliniesque. “Grande Fratello” becomes an allegory for the Church: the house where the Chosen Ones dwell becomes Luciano’s vision of Heaven. What’s being satirized is not just the easy target of reality TV, but humanity’s need to be watched, whether by an audience or by the Almighty. It’s probably no coincidence that the movie starts and ends with a God’s-eye view of the action.

Perhaps the most surreal element of Reality is in its back story. During filming, star Aniello Arena was serving year twenty of a twenty-eight year prison sentence (the maximum period of incarnation in Italy). He shot his scenes during the day on work release, then returned to his cell at night.


“…[a] psychologically astute, dreamlike gut-punch…”–Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)


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