By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
Matteo Garrone burst on the scene with Gomorrah, his harrowing, ripped from real life tale of what the Sicilian mob really looks like in this day and age, and the various insidious ways in which it affects Italian life. So, for his follow-up, perhaps another cinema verite look at Italian crime or society? Nope, how about a movie about a fisherman who wants to be on Big Brother? Which is apparently HUGE in Italy.
The Pope’s ratings have never been higher after he won Season 12
Reality has more going on than that, of course. Luciano is indeed a fish salesman/small-time grifter who, like apparently everyone in Naples at least, adores the Italian version of Big Brother. When he runs into a former reality star on a cross-dressing gig (don’t ask me), a desire is sparked to be on the next iteration of the program. Things appear to be going well, but will the producers ever call? What sacrifices is he prepared to make, and is he willing to pay the cost of fame, up to and including his sanity?
First off, let no one ever tell you that Matteo Garrone is anything but a fine technical filmmaker. Reality is beautifully shot, at times transcendentally so. He alternates between ‘frame it and put it on your wall” wide compositions and roaming, long takes in which the camera is like another character in the drama, or perhaps your surrogate to enter the action yourself. And that final scene and shot… nearly won me over all on its own. The performances are fine, particularly Aniello Arena’s turn as Luciano, in which he goes from likable raconteur to an obsessed, almost beatific modern-day Frances of Assissi suffering from Truman Show Delusion. Don’t we all in this day and age?
Though I only feel that particular paranoia when I’m on the toilet.
The film starts as some sort of odd mix between a setting-focused drama, a fairytale, and a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, with a world populated exclusively by characters ranging from slightly off to downright bizarre. Then, as hope fails and Luciano begins to despair, it goes down a road somewhere between modern day Catholic morality tale/parable and a surreal Fellini-like exploration of the psyche. At different moments, it hits all of these spots brilliantly, and certainly keeps you intrigued to see what direction Garrone ultimately is going with all of this.
The problem is, I’m not sure Garrone even knew where this was going to end up. He is adept at introducing intriguing plotlines and new angles, but wholly unable to compile them into a recognizable whole (see what I did there?). This tendency was the reason I was under-whelmed by Gomorrah, and it only gets worse in this film.
All of this kind of makes it seem like Garrone’s created a tantalizingly convoluted plot, but honestly, it’s about as straight-forward as it comes. Rather, it’s the moods and atmosphere that he creates (and that the score constantly underlines). If anything, the plot is undercooked, which doesn’t help matters.
With all of this going on, the bizarre little details that somebody like Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Michel Gondry uses to such great effect just stick out like sore thumbs here. What’s with the robots? What the hell was going on in the beginning- are Garrone and his family (neighbors?) some sort of circus for hire? This is all strange just to be strange, and adds nothing whatsoever to the plot or message of the film.
Frank’s robot at least helped him steal stuff.
Ultimately, you’re left with the question of “why?” Some reviewers think this is some sort of metaphor for flim-flam man extraordinaire Silvio Berlusconi’s rein over Italy, and some vehemently disagree. There’s an undeniable religious angle to it, and of course the obvious interpretation of the soul-dissolving effect of the cheap, easy fame that reality TV brings. Garrone’s film is so damn mixed up with what it wants to be, though, that any message is lost in the static.
Reality defies categorization, but not in a good or even particularly interesting way. Beautifully made, though.
Take a Drink: whenever reality TV is glorified by anyone
Take a Drink: whenever robots are mentioned or show up. I’m just as confused as you are.
Take a Drink: every time Luciano acts intrusively towards Enzo
Do a Shot: for nightmare-inducing cross-dressing