Directed by Matteo Garrone
This movie wants to be many things: a dissection of the American-ization of Italian pop culture, a gaudy expose of the effects of reality television on the mind, and a conceptual caper about the relationship between screen and spectator; director Garrone has even described the film as a modern-day Pinocchio. Sure enough, the bauble-eyed, hook-nosed visage of star Aniello Arena gives the story—about Luciano, a fishmonger who becomes pathologically obsessed with getting into the Italian version of Big Brother—a certain gravity that was missing from Garrone’s ensemble-casted, cinematographic hat-trick-intensive Gomorrah. Life-battered and yet curiously naive, Luciano enjoys a lower-middle-class life in a gossipy corner of Naples with wife and children, upended only by a brief taste of fame. Returning from the auditions, he’s greeted by his neighbors like a war hero. Unable to shake the delusion that he’s being tested by execs in some kind of final round, he becomes alternately paranoid, bullying and philanthropic.
Arena gives the character so much brass that, amid a constant family cacophony of wheedling and complaining, Luciano has a refreshing agency. Same goes for the movie: Garrone’s aesthetic is tactile, grandiose, muscular, Kubrickian. The colors are fiery, the takes are long, the blocking starts with one great visual punchline and reassembles itself into another. But, to paraphrase Walker Percy, Reality gets into trouble switching from “horizontal” to “vertical”: the biggest filmmaker in Italy today, Garrone relies too much on Arena to embody an already dated sociological message, and his depiction of Luciano’s uniformly bloated, glitz-obsessed family—probably designed as subversive on paper—comes off as ugly at best, classist at worst. There’s a difference between being great at directing and being a great director: the story runs out of steam well before Garrone’s denouement, which is less plot twist than crane shot.
Opens March 15