Friday, March 15, 2013

Matteo Garrone's REALITY opens: another odd obssession, both national and individual

Matteo Garrone, the talented Italian filmmaker who rose to worldwide prominence with his Cammora movie Gomorrah, is back this week with a new work entitled REALITY, about obsessive behavior -- which is the subject of all five of his films that I have so far seen. With his early movies (the wonderful documen-tary Oreste Pipolo, The Embalmer and First Love) the obsession rested in the individual. With Gomorrah, it exploded outward to all of Italy but particularly the south. Now, in Reality -- which tracks the effect of the television program Big Brother on Italy and Italians -- this obsessive behavior is shown to be both individual and nationwide.

I have never seen any version Big Brother in any of the many countries in which is has been produ-ced, but I am told that it has proven most enduring and most popular of all in the country of Italy, where the populace has taken to it like flies to shit. Certain-ly, that is how we (via Signore Garrone, shown at left) observe it here. Those "fifteen minutes" of fame appear to be worth everything for many Italians. In this latest of his films, Garrone is using style more abundantly and heavily, more in the manner of his countryman Paolo Sorrentino, that I have previously seen. From his strange and wonderful opening -- in which the camera, beginning in long shot, comes ever closer to something that seems to bring 16th-Century France into present-day Italy -- to the brilliant finale (which echoes the fine Spanish film Concursante), television at last succeeds in becoming one man's, one country's, perhaps one world's reality.

To bring his point home, the filmmaker has cast Reality with a wonderful range of performers, some very unglamorous and odd-looking. These performers have led some reviewers to mention Fellini as a point of comparison, but I don't think so. Not really. Garrone uses his people quite differently than did Fellini -- for one thing, they don't all exist as mainly satellites of the filmmaker.  (In any case, we'll have the opportunity to compare next week, when 8-1/2 get a welcome theatrical revival. More on this soon.)

In the leading role, the filmmaker has cast Aniello Arena (shown above, below right, and further below), an actual prisoner of the Italian penal system whom that system agreed to allow outside for a time in order to film the movie. (What with the recent great success of the Taviani brothers' Caesar Must Die, this may now constiture a "trend." Maybe the U.S. ought to try this with its own, ever-growing prison population.)

In his early 20s when he was convicted of assassinating rival Camorra gang members (and so is serving a prison term of "life"), Arena gives one of those glorious, all-stops-out Italian performances, playing a seaside fish monger named Luciano who enjoys "performing" and whose children and other relatives begin insisting that he audition for the upcoming season of Big Brother.

Initially put off by this idea, Luciano slowly warms to it, gets the audition and soon becomes obsessed with being a part of the show. What this does to him, his wife (a grand performance by Loredana Simioli, above and at bottom) and his community becomes the heart of the movie. When possible spying by the TV crew turns into paranoia, what happens to our hero is profoundly sad, all the more so because he allows, even encourages it himself.

How all this happens and whom it includes makes for an odd, amusing and slowly revealing/upsetting journey into... what? Garrone's answer is also his ace-in-the-hole and supreme achievement. When "reality" reaches the point it does here -- for a person, for a nation -- all bets are off. That the filmmaker manages to create something so vibrant and beautiful out of what is actually some kind of horror speaks wonders about his movie-making skills.

Opening today in New York at the Angelika Film Center, Reality (from Oscilloscope and running 102 minutes) will be making a number stops in other U.S. cities, beginning next week in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal theater. To see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down.

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