2013, 110 minutes
Rated R for some language
Winner of the 2012 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Reality is the new film by Matteo Garrone, best known for his crime drama Gomorrah which also won the Grand Prix at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Reality follows the story of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a fishmonger who lives in a small Italian town with his wife and kids and how he becomes obsessed with trying to get on reality TV after he auditions for a show.
The standout aspect of this film is the amazing performance by Aniello Arena. Arena has been in jail for 20 years serving a life sentence for murder. In Italy, there are some acting troupes that consist of prisoners (the entire cast of the Taviani brothers' Caesar Must Die were prisoners) and Arena belongs to one of those troupes. According to Garrone, he wanted Arena to star in Gomorrah, but a judge wouldn't allow it. Instead, Garrone got Arena for Reality. He would work on set in the day and go back to jail in the night. Arena has a charm to him that is not unlike Christoph Waltz. Luciano is a very sympathetic character, even after he begins to obsess over the TV show. At heart, he is a good man who only wants the best for his family and Arena expresses this perfectly. It was scary to see that Arena committed murder. Arena's story is truly inspirational, as it is one of second chances, and one of a life turnaround.
The opening to Reality is one of the best I've seen in a while. It is a very long take of the camera zooming in from afar onto a wedding carriage and following it to its destination. The shot that Garrone set up is incredibly complicated and only a master craftsman could have pulled that off. A substantial amount of the film is shot in long takes, but these long takes are not like Haneke long takes. Garrone's long takes involve inventive camera movement and show something that will move the story forward, unlike Haneke who keeps the camera stationary to show a slice of life. Technically, Reality is superbly made.
According to Garrone, the story for Reality is true. It is based off of his brother-in-law who became obsessed with getting on a reality TV show. The story of this film is nothing earth-shatteringly new, drags a little, and could have possibly used a bit more of a punch at the end, but it is told very well through Garrone's smart directional decisions, some very funny scenes, and Arena's masterful performance.
Overall, Reality is a really good film that should be seen. It is very entertaining, dark, and well-crafted. If there is any reason to see this film at all, it is for Arena. Few actors could have performed the role of Luciano the way he did. It is very hard to make a character so crazy and obsessive so likable, but somehow Arena did.