Film review: Reality - The long slippery slide of the fame game

3.00

(15)

Pity the Italian satirist. When your country's politicians can outdo anything in grotesque and idiotic venality you imagine through a work of art, you know it's uphill all the way. Why aim for burlesque when you already have Berlusconi?

The writer-director Matteo Garrone has nevertheless grasped the nettle and targeted a subject that's close to the heart of a people passionately devoted to confession and display: reality TV. In the drama Reality, he gives us a man who would sell his soul for a chance at fame, if only he could find a buyer.

Garrone burst on to the scene in 2008 with Gomorrah, his scalding and unglamorous chronicle of Neapolitan mafiosi and their cowed victims. This new film returns us to Naples, where Luciano (Aniello Arena), a thirtysomething family man, is operating a pensions scam in cahoots with his wife, Maria (Loredana Simioli). But this is no crime story. Luciano is a local fishmonger who's a born showman, dragging up in a blue wig to entertain at the garish wedding party that opens the film. And lo! He's instantly overshadowed by the arrival of Enzo, a celeb red-hot from his time in the Grande Fratello house, Italy's version of Big Brother. As he watches Enzo dominate the scene and then depart by chopper, some dreadful longing is born in Luciano's heart.

His opportunity knocks when Maria and the kids, plus their entourage of aunts and cousins, summon Luciano to an audition for the next Big Brother at a shopping mall. With his slight frame and Mr Punch chin, he doesn't appear a natural-born TV star, but he gives it a go and reports home bright-eyed with triumph: "I said things I never even told my pa!" Another audition, this time in Rome, is offered, by which time he's fully engaged in the fantasy of a life on Planet Celeb. The film doesn't show his auditions, significantly, but the camera keeps close to monitor his changing behaviour day to day. Convinced that the TV people have put spies on him in preparing their final selection, Luciano goes off the deep end: he sells off his fish stall and emulates St Francis by giving away his worldly goods to the poor. His obsession with the show becomes pathological, and his relationship with Maria begins to fall apart.

Is this indictment of celebrity worship a little obvious? Perhaps. We know rather too much about the affliction to be surprised, most of it gleaned from movies. When Robert De Niro's Rupert Pupkin said, "Better to be king for a day than schmuck for a lifetime" in The King of Comedy, he articulated a credo for the ages. Luciano's predicament feeds on that most potent of psychological ills, self-delusion, and no amount of reasoning will wean him off it. Few are more qualified to play this trapped man than Aniello Arena, who has learnt to act in prison theatre since he began serving a life sentence for murder 20 years ago. (He was released on a day pass for filming, then returned to his cell.) Arena's lived-in looks and air of thwartedness suit both the role and the film's ambiguous climax, where Luciano's laughter may signal either his descent into madness or else an acknowledgement of his folly. By the end we want to know how a TV programme of such pathetic vulgarity could become the apogee of an ordinary man's ambition, but Garrone's film is at a loss to explain. What could? Luciano's story represents the warping not of one man but of an entire culture.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy