REALITY. Starring Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli. Directed by Matteo Garrone. 113 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language).

Despite Luciano’s laugh at the end of the film, this is, overall, a rather sad film.

Director, Matteo Garrone, has won awards by dramatising the main myth of Naples, the Mafia. Now he goes to a much more mundane, but no less prevalent, myth: reality-TV.

The reality of the title refers to reality TV, specifically the Big Brother program, so popular all around the world. At the time of the making of this film, it was in its 12th season in Italy.

There is a symbolic beginning as we watch a long the aerial shot over the outskirts of Naples, the background of Vesuvius, finally passing the cars in the streets to focus on an ornate carriage, carrying a bride and groom and going into a theme park called Le Sonrisa where marriages are celebrated, celebrities flown in, locals dressing up in costumes to be part of the background to the celebrations. We see ordinary people dressed up in a fantasyland.

But, then they go home, to very ordinary homes where they are very ordinary people. Not exactly poor, but not exactly well-off. And while the father works at a fish market, he is also involved in scams with a new product of robot-cookers.

But it is the Big Brother program that preoccupies him. Persuaded to do an audition, Luciano is called to Cinecitta in Rome for a second audition. But then there is the long wait for a phone call to ensure that he is a candidate to go into the Big Brother House. This long waits turns into an obsession, as he sells his fish market shop, as he broods, watches Big Brother on the television, moves out of reality to the concern of his wife, thinking that the producers are secretly watching him and thinking that he should do charitable deeds, including giving away his furniture, to ensure his being chosen for the Big Brother House.

Aniello Arena is completely persuasive as Luciano, the very ordinary man, very ordinary-looking man, who gets caught up in the atmosphere of contemporary pop media, the reality shows, thinking that he will become famous, thinking that he will make money, thinking that his family will esteem him more. Another character, Enzo, sweeps in and out of the film to great acclaim, the celebrity for the masses.

The film offers a lot of background detail for life in the suburbs of Naples. It also has the highly emotional outbursts of the Neapolitans. It is interesting to note that there are a couple of church scenes, elderly ladies pray the rosary in church, a brief sermon from a sensible priest on appearances and reality, Luciano and his friend Michele working in a soup kitchen of the parish and, finally, the going to the stations of the cross on good Friday at the Coliseum. These scenes seem to indicate that finding a place in the Big Brother House is a secular alternative to going to heaven.

Just as the film opened with an aerial shot into Naples, the film ends with a long rising tracking shot from Luciano in the Big Brother House laughing, but giving us plenty of time to wonder what is the nature of his laugh, satisfaction in getting into the house or a mad giggle.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


Out July 4, 2013.

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