In a way, I feel bad passing judgement on Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” given the circumstances in which I saw it. And no, I don’t mean the sky-high expectations I had for it when I saw the film within an hour of it winning the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival back in May.
I had read a fair amount about “Reality” before seeing it and generated a fair amount of excitement to see the film. All the promotional material seemed to indicate that the protagonist, menial Sicilian fisher Luciano, was a contestant on “Grande Fratello” – the Italian version of “Big Brother” – who slowly lost his grip on what was real. I was anticipating a hybrid of an absurdist drama with a timely zeitgeist piece like “Network,” “Broadcast News,” or “The Social Network.”
In a sense, I got what I was expecting. The film does follow Luciano as he slowly goes mad enough that he might as well be living in an alternate universe where Orwell’s Big Brother is on patrol. And it does make a statement about our times for our times: a society hooked on observing a false, camera-observed reality will eventually lose its grip on an observable reality. But Garrone extracts this proclamation from Luciano all from before he sets foot on the set of “Grande Fratello.” I’m not trying to ruin the ending, but don’t expect to see Luciano on the set of the show until the end.
So I was in essence watching a movie waiting for a plot point that doesn’t really ever occur. Hopefully the marketing for the film prior to its US release will be a little more to the point to avoid more bewildered reactions like mine. I was essentially watching a movie thinking and waiting for one thing in total denial that it might be something else.
Thankfully, that something was a more coherent, enjoyable watch than “Gomorrah,” Garrone’s first film. However, the film sags under the weight of a nearly two-hour runtime that could have easily been pared back by 30 minutes. The story works if you know what’s coming. The acting is fine, particularly from Aniello Arena, who delivers a performance so deranged as Luciano that I could easily see him murdering someone. Oh wait, Arena did in reality. B- /