By positioning celebrity as the new cracked sainthood, director Matteo Garrone’s Reality is a darkly comic look at Luciano, a charming and affable fishmonger whose unexpected and sudden obsession with being a contestant on the reality show Big Brother leads him down a rabbit hole of skewed perceptions and paranoia.
So overcome by his dream of being on reality TV, Luciano's own reality begins to spiral out of control, making for one of the most compelling tragicomic character studies since Scorsese's The King of Comedy.
On the surface, it’s a fairly simplistic tale of all-consuming lust for fame: Neapolitan fish merchant Luciano (Aniello Arena) agrees to audition for the Italian version of Big Brother at the urging of his kids. Low and behold, he gets a callback, which sets him off the deep end, alienating family and friends as well as ruining himself financially. But consider the details. Luciano renounces pretty much everything he knows, focusing instead on the glory that allegedly awaits him. He is convinced that he is being observed at all times (by scouts from the show), and alters his behavior based on what he believes will favorably impress those in charge. He sells his business, gives away all his possessions—what need will he have of such meager assets when the call from the producer finally comes? Even his wife and kids, as much he loves them, can’t be permitted to hinder his pursuit of the ultimate happiness. Does this sound like a worldview you may have encountered elsewhere?
Thanks to Garrone’s script and direction, as well as a very good performance from newcomer Aniello Arena, Luciano’s transformation is completely compelling. It is both tragic and funny to watch him take the bait of Garrone’s manipulated version of post-Reality TV fame. That version, featuring former Big Brother housemate Enzo as universally adored and apparently rich and famous might trick the protagonist, but Garrone doesn’t want it to trick us: Enzo’s fame has in fact reduced him to making personal appearances at weddings and trussed up in a harness to fly through the air of a nightclub. We are gently persuaded to question why fame has come to that, and laugh at the perversity of those, like Luciano, who see it as in any way worthy of aspiration.