Reality (2012, Matteo Garrone)

Garrone’s follow-up to Gomorrah prompts a lot more smiles and less dread, though the dread builds towards the end. The second fiction I’ve seen after Dead Set revolving around the show Big Brother, which must be bigger in Europe (or maybe it was huge here and I just haven’t noticed).

Opens with a great helicopter shot with Elfmanesque music. Luciano, who runs a fish market and plays a noisy blue-wigged woman at parties, is coerced by his family into interviewing for Big Brother at a local mall, then he gets a callback interview at Cinecitta. He becomes obsessed with the show, sells his business to prepare for stardom and gives all his possessions to the homeless to impress producers he thinks are spying on him, but the season’s cast is announced and his phone never rings, so he takes to stalking the show’s spokesman, a former winner named Enzo. Luciano’s obsession grows, but he also learns to hide it from his family, so at the end he wanders off during a trip to Rome, sneaks into the Big Brother house, and the camera pulls slowly out as he laughs crazily to himself.

There’s also a scam plot involving Luciano and his brother getting local seniors to apply for free government-issued robots (?!). I caught one of the gun-happy kids from Gomorrah as a bartender. Alexandre Desplat contributes the wonderful fantasy score.

Reverse Shot:

Back home in Italy, the film has registered more keenly, perhaps because they are still crawling out from under a prime minister whose legacy is marked by tax evasion and media monopoly, game shows and bouncing bimbos. A show predicated on voyeurism and humiliation like Big Brother, the program that sits like a bioluminescent tumor at the center of Garrone’s film, would seem to be the quintessential cultural marker for a period led by a man who was once a cruise-ship and nightclub crooner. Reality is then the unspoken anti-Berlusconi film of the moment, interrogating at once a culture of crassness, wild social inequality, and blatant fraudulence, both financial and otherwise.

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