General consensus on reality TV is less than favourable most of the time, even though it can be equally addictive as curiosity takes over. Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone and his co-writers have taken this concept and produced a fascinating, modern-day Italian tragedy that gradually creeps under the skin. It’s as eerily disturbing as it is predictable in outcome, making this Cannes’ Grand Prix winner a highly compelling watch. It mirrors reality TV as it takes grip and feeds our urge to be proven right or wrong by events that ensue. It also serves as an ugly reminder of the impact of talent(less) celebrity.
Luciano (Aniello Arena) sees the rewards of winning Italy’s Big Brother TV, after a visit from last year’s winner at a wedding he is attending. With times being hard, running his fish stall, local character Luciano sees getting on this year’s show as his and his family’s way out of a humdrum, penny-pinching existence. He thinks he’s in with a good chance of being picked for the House after being invited to the main auditions. What begins as determination and ambition turns into obsession that affects his family and ultimately, his own wellbeing.
Rather like reality TV, the viewer is given a window into Luciano’s life as we watch events with him and his nearest and dearest unfold from an objective standpoint. In a sense, we still root for him and his endeavours, if only as failure would be too tragic to contemplate, plus his intentions towards his family seem genuine and heartfelt. The story is also a frank social lesson in greed as Luciano is ironically very ‘well off’ with a solid family network and self-sufficient as a local businessman living within his means – quirky ‘robot’ scams aside. Arena is quite striking and charismatic in the role, leading us effortlessly through his character’s emotional journey and the highs and lows. He makes Luciano a very genuine and fully fleshed out character, even in his more erratic moments.
There is also a lot of natural humour to be had in Reality, for example, when Luciano and family visit the local water park and he supposedly gets ‘the call’ he’s been waiting for. These lighter moments contrast beautifully with the darker ones, such as Luciano becoming delusional in nature and even more isolated. There is also an unsavoury element with a weaken Luciano exposed to corruption from the local underbelly of have-nots, even if this appears charitable to start with. The final scenes are utterly wretched and deeply moving as Garrone lets events play out to translate the harsh reality of getting a whiff of celerity but being closed off to it, too. These scenes are some of the most memorable and affecting, long after the end credits roll.
Reality is just that; a chilling dose of filmic reality of how damaging and all consuming celebrity and some people’s aspirations of it can be in this day and age, without being patronising in its efforts, almost subliminal in message. The film’s natural cinematic sense plays to its strengths further, making it a notable gem of filmmaking to catch, which translates into any language.