Italian director Matteo Garrone's biting comedy-drama "Reality" takes the old saying about how the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and asks us to consider what happens when the fence is a television screen.
Luciano (Aneillo Arena) is the happy-go-lucky owner of a fish stand in the piazza of his Naples neighborhood. He's always talking, always performing for his customers. He also performs at family events, and in the movie's beginning puts on a dress and oversized eyelashes for an over-the-top drag act at a wedding.
At this wedding, Luciano meets Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), a former contestant on "Grande Fratello" the Italian version of the reality show "Big Brother" who earns a comfortable living making public appearances. With this one encounter, Luciano has a new goal: to be on "Big Brother."
Luciano goes to a public casting call in a local mall and even gets a callback to audition in Rome. (Cinephiles will be horrified to see that Italy's "Big Brother" house is on the grounds of CinecittÃ , the legendary studio where "La Dolce Vita," "Ben-Hur," "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and "Gangs of New York" were filmed. As they say in show biz, work is work.)
After the callback, and with his family's encouragement, Luciano starts believing that the call to appear on "Big Brother" will come any day now. This leads him to develop a raging paranoia, as he believes any stranger lurking around his fish stand is a "Big Brother" scout checking out his backstory.
Garrone, sharing screenplay credit with three other writers, turns Luciano's plight into a shrewd satire of media obsession a mirror opposite of "The Truman Show," depicting someone outside a media bubble too eager to get in. Garrone employs a handheld camera and long fluid takes (much as he did in his brilliant documentary-style Mafia drama "Gomorrah") to capture Luciano's large and loud family, and the sense of desperation when his dream seems to be slipping away.
Anchoring "Reality" is Arena's forceful performance as Luciano, still smiling while his pursuit of televised "reality" is making him lose touch with his own reality.
The crowning irony, and the reason the movie is so engaging, is that Arena's tragicomic performance feels more real than what you'd see on a reality show.
A Naples fishmonger pursues his TV dreams in this sharply detailed satire of our obsession with reality TV.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, May 10.
Rating • R for some language.
Running time • 116 minutes; in Italian with subtitles.