Reality: A Fishmonger Dreams of TV Stardom
Matteo Garrone burst onto the cinema scene in 2008 with Gomorrah, his prize-winning film about the Southern Italian crime syndicate known as the Camorra. Soaked top to bottom in obstinate grays and flat-affect acting, Gomorrah trudged through its grimly methodical plot in a style so stark and singular, one could assume it might be Garrone's career calling card. Five years later, here's Reality, Garrone's explosively colorful fable about a Neapolitan family man seduced (and eventually unhinged) by the promise of reality-TV fame. It's a film so different from its predecessor that it reintroduces Garrone- the-grim-hypernaturalist as a fearless genre-hopper of potentially unlimited gifts.
Presenting a parade of visual ravishments drawn from a color palette that's positively Almodovarian, Reality follows Luciano, a fishmonger living with his wife and three kids in Naples. A naturally gregarious clown (in the opening scene, he does charmingly terrible "comedy drag" at a wedding), Luciano is goaded by his family into auditioning for Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother.
Almost immediately, the possibility of appearing on the show begins disrupting his life. Strangers hovering around his fish stand—are they scouts for Big Brother? If so, how should Luciano modulate his behavior to maximize his chances of appearing on the show? A parallel story follows Luciano and his wife's budget-padding Medicaid scam, in which they help elderly neighbors order insurance-approved countertop robots (part bread machine, part Roomba) and sell them on the black market. Throughout Reality, Garrone presents the fantastic—from ornately choreographed streetscapes to helpful kitchen robots—as "normal life," and, as the film proceeds, the difference between fantasy and reality begins to slip away from Luciano. Reality ends with a bittersweet ellipsis, but the journey to this mysterious finale is loaded with tangible delights. Go see it.
This article has been updated since its original publication.