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TIFF 2012 Review: ‘Reality’ Finally Makes Reality TV Interesting

By  · Published on September 15th, 2012

by Andrew Robinson

Matteo Garrone’s new film, Reality, opens with a horse-drawn carriage, looking like it’s from the Victorian era, heading down a busy street filled with cars. As we zoom in closer and closer, the fantastical is highlighted more and more. It becomes pretty obvious that the film will wow us in a way not many others can, by presenting something that we just can’t believe is real.

Luciano (Aniello Arena) is very much a larger-than-life character. After much pushing and prodding from his children, he tests to be on Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. After performing so well, Luciano is certain – as is the entire town – that he will be called up to be on the show. The film follows his descent into madness as he waits for the call.

An aspect of the world we live in that’s always ripe for discussion is the concept of celebrity. What is a celebrity? What do you have to do to become one? Would you want to be one? These are questions the audience asks while watching this film. Luciano never showed much interest in being on TV prior to his children’s suggestion, but when he gets a hint that it might happen, his fixation on being prepared for it causes his vanity and paranoia to get the better of him. We see Luciano become a celebrity in his own town, first for the potential of being on TV and then eventually for losing his mind.

Throughout the film, Maria (Loredana Simoli) does her best to be a supportive wife to Luciano, to a point. The strain that his obsession with the show puts on their marriage is almost incalculable. At the film’s start we see them lovingly together at their wedding as she helps him dress in drag to entertain the family. Later, we see them fight after Luciano gives away all their things to the homeless, and it gives us a point of reference for how drastically he has changed. Everyone close to him concernedly struggles to straddle the line of understanding.

The film plays with Luciano’s sanity in a way that is retroactively interesting. As the end of the film arrives, you think back to the first half, when he goes to Rome to audition for the show. As he leaves the audition, Luciano is so excited, certain that he’ll be coming back because of how long the show’s producers kept him in the interview. However, in light of seeing Luciano walk around his town believing people around him to be spies from the show, to see if he’s worthy, it becomes obvious that there was a completely different reason why he was in that interview for so long.

The final shot of the film definitely leaves the audience wanting. But the end you want wouldn’t make you appreciate the film’s value any more at that point. Instead it introduces a new level of obsession and allows you to decide what will happen with Luciano and his family’s view of him next.

The Upside: A great hypothesis for the types of people who populate reality TV.

The Downside: If you don’t like good movies, it’s a bad movie for you.

On the Side: The film won the Grand Prix at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

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