Matteo Garrone’s Palme d’Or nominated and Grand Prix winning Reality (2012) appears in the ‘Debate’ strand of this year’s London Film Festival, with this divisive, blackly comic parody about our celebrity obsessed milieu certain to divide audiences. The camera descends from the heavens and falls like a leaf, presenting the city of Naples as it serenely tumbles beneath the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Attracted like a magnet to the unseemly sight of regal horse drawn carriage, Garrone’s gaze follows as this peculiar vision makes its way to an elaborate wedding held within a faux-palace resembling Versailles.
Accompanied by the sound of chirping choir singers, this celestial and highly extravagant opening sets the scene for this fairytale portrayal of our culture’s obsession with pomp and ceremony and the ‘concept’ of celebrity. It’s at this wedding we first meet Luciano (Aniello Arena) a fishmonger whose flamboyant penchant for showmanship (particularly his infamous ‘drag’ routines) has made him a local celebrity – although not to the same degree as recent Big Brother winner Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), whose appearance at this marriage is meet with rapturous applause.
Luciano and Enzo’s paths cross once again when the former appears at a local department store in a professional capacity, attending the Naples auditions for the latest series of Big Brother. Luciano is persuaded into auditioning by his young family and whilst he’s initially nonchalant about the whole affair, when he gets a call back to audition again in Rome he begins to become obsessed with the possibility of instant stardom – going as far as believing he’s constantly under the surveillance of the TV network.
From Enzo’s contrived mantra of “never give up” to the fame and adulation placed upon his fragile superstar status, it’s clear form the offset that Garrone’s Reality is a biting expose of celebrity culture in Berlusconi’s Italy. However, it’s the absurdly comic manner in which he presents his message that is the most beguiling element of his Gomorrah (2008) follow-up, combining the aesthetics of an archetypal Disney fable with the shaky hand-held camera work of a documentary. This creates a strange juxtaposition between fantasy and reality, culminating in an enchanting, yet startling realistic depiction of the evolving reliance of society to find financial salvation through fame.
Amplified by a strong correlation between the grandeur of Catholicism and the flamboyance of reality TV, Garrone presents us with a community corrupted by money, possessions and fame, with television becoming the new church and the show’s stars their new messiahs. With celebrity the new faith, Garrone gives us an overblown example of the detrimental effect this deceptive belief system is having on our economically fragile society. Reality is a radical, intelligent and thoroughly entertaining example of Italian cinema doing what it does best.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.