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.

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

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star