Reality review: television becomes us

Reality yellow light Aniello Arena

Italian satire amusingly sends up our obsession with reality TV, but not in a wholly satisfying way.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

As a little slice of life in modern Naples, this is a treat: fishmonger Luciano (newcomer Aniello Arena) is a bit of a clown (he’s got a drag act that kills at family gatherings) and a bit of a scamp (he shamelessly charms all his customers, male and female alike) and a bit of a con artist (he’s got a scam going involving, hilariously, pasta-making robots). His life and that of everyone around him is a glorious, bustling mess grounded in the hustle of trying to get by and punctuated by occasional wonderful madness, such as the insanely baroque wedding that opens the film. But the film’s title is double-barrelled with irony, for Luciano isn’t satisfied with his own reality and — after an audition for Big Brother at the local shopping mall — is becoming increasingly fixated on reality TV, convincing himself that it’s impossible that he wouldn’t be admitted to the Big Brother house. Italian writer-director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) crafts a sort of tragic satire from Luciano’s growing paranoia — he “sees” TV producers everywhere, spying on him, apparently trying to determine just how “real” and entertaining he might be on TV — but it never quite reaches a pinnacle as either tragedy or satire. Perhaps it’s a joke on us that we’re left unsated by how Luciano resolves his obssession, for isn’t that how actual reality often works out? Perhaps it’s intended a commentary on our own desire for unrealistic closure? Even so, I couldn’t believe Garrone chose to halt his story when he did, when there was clearly some juicy drama still to come.

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