Luciano Aniello Arena
Maria Loredana Simioli
Massimone Nello Iorio
Enzio Raffaele Ferrante
Nunzia Nunzia Schiano
Michele Nando Paone
Oscilloscope Laboratories presents a film directed by Matteo Garrone. Written by Garrone, Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Braucci and Massimo Gaudioso. In Italian and Latin, with English subtitles. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated R (for some language). Opening Friday at the Music Box.
Updated: May 1, 2013 1:45PM
The election this month of a new pontiff unfolded like a reality TV show. The first-rate Italian comedy “Reality” — which fakes Pope Benedict appearing in St. Peter’s Square — likens consecration to elevating an “everyman” to pop celebrity.
Luciano (Aniello Arena), the proprietor of a fish shop in Naples, aspires to get on “Grande Fratello,” Italy’s version of the “Big Brother” show. Citing Pinocchio and Pirandello, director and co-writer Matteo Garrone crafts “a black fairy tale” about wishing too much to be seen — in the eyes of your little daughters, if not God’s.
“Reality” opens with a helicopter shot of a white, horse-drawn carriage with liveried coachmen. Out step a bride and groom for a fantasy wedding that’s ridiculously tacky. An emcee introduces Enzio (Raffaele Ferrante), famous for his 116-day run on “Grande Fratello.” Meanwhile, Luciano gets an autograph for his little girl.
Three weeks later, this super-fan spots Enzio in a mall as he and his crew audition prospective contestants for the next season. Although Luciano is too late, he begs the cameraman to fake an interview, just to thrill his onlooking kin. Thus begins an increasingly absurd quest to get on television.
Luciano thinks the staff of “Grande Fratello” is secretly checking on him. He gives away his worldly possessions to look good.
“Jesus asks us to understand ourselves, to understand the difference between being and seeming, between what’s true and false,” preaches his priest. “We’re all being observed,” counsels his friend. “Our Lord observes us, judges us, guides us.” Two secular American satires on authentic life come to mind: watching TV and watched on TV defined the naive characters of “Being There” (1979) and “The Truman Show” (1998), respectively.
With “Reality,” which won the grand jury prize at Cannes last year, Garrone continues his concern with ideal visual images. In “First Love” (2004), a goldsmith starves his true love, who models in art classes, to fit his erotic aesthetic. Screen and life merge in “Gomorrah” (2008) as two teen wannabes fixate on “Scarface” and think they are living in a Brian de Palma film.
The humanist “Reality” takes a lighter view than “Videocracy” (2009), Erik Gandini’s indictment of Italy’s media industry. An unlucky welder in that documentary styles himself as a hybrid of Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin and announces: “When you’re on TV, you’re 10 steps above everyone else.” Garrone’s Luciano displays a similar striving, always buying into Enzio’s mantra, “Keep believing. Always believe.”
To match its enchanting first shot, “Reality” concludes with the camera ascending heavenward from Rome’s famous Cinecitta Studios — where the real “Grande Fratello” show is produced.
There is another real-world link. “My wife’s brother is the real Luciano,” Garrone has told interviewers. “Now he works in a fish shop in Naples called Illusion. So the real story has a happy ending.”
Bill Stamets is a Chicago-based free-lance writer and reviewer.