Film review: REALITY, from Built For Speed

In the 1990’s, comedy/dramas about the lure of celebrity and the superficiality of reality TV were a potent commentary on society’s spiritual emptiness. Fast forward two decades, however, and reality TV as a source of satire and social comment has become passé. Consequently, Italian Big Brother satire Reality feels, despite the excellent craftsmanship of Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone, strangely outdated.

This is another film about an average schlub who goes to bizarre lengths to achieve fame and recognition. Newcomer Aniello Arenax  plays Luciano, a fishmonger and small time scam artist who, after initial reluctance, agrees to audition for the Italian version of TV show Big Brother.  Tempted by the thin possibility that he might be selected, he becomes obsessed with the show and the potential fame it offers. His obsession turns to paranoia as he thinks the show’s producers are watching him in daily life to see if he is suitable. At one point he even suspects that a grasshopper in his house is a spy camera.

The film tries to explore some of the same issues as Martin Scorsese’s 1983 classic King of Comedy, namely obsession with celebrity and public adulation and fame as a beacon in the darkness of everyday life. Unfortunately, the film is nowhere near as focused, inventive, confronting nor as perversely funny as King of Comedy.

Having established Luciano’s desire to be in the show, the plot stalls and simply indulges tepid quirky gags about the way possible celebrity alters Luciano’s behaviour and family life.

The main problem is that Luciano isn’t a particularly interesting character, he’s just a quirky pushy guy with criminal tendencies.  He’s certainly not as amusingly bizarre or disturbing as King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin.  By the film’s conclusion we don’t have much reason to care about Luciano or his plight.

The film does contain some interesting diversions into Fellini territory in its depiction of Italian society as a mix of gaudy commercialism, decadence and religious piety.  A bizarre ornate opening scene at a wedding where Luciano is dressed in drag and harasses a big brother celebrity is particularly redolent of Fellini.

The film shifts between this Felliniesque absurdity and cinema verite realism with scenes filmed using hand held cameras, noisy locations and improvised dialogue.  In so doing it makes impressive use of attractive locations around Naples.

Although well made, Reality’s familiar concept and lack of narrative drive ultimately make for an unengaging film.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Matteo Garrone.

Release date: 3rd July 2013

Running time: 116 mins.


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