Italy has produced a fascinating run of state-of-the-nation films in recent years, including Paolo Sorrentino’s political saga ‘Il Divo’, Nanni Moretti’s ‘The Caiman’ and Matteo Garrone’s crime epic ‘Gomorrah’. Garrone’s new film is a queasy portrait of the distorting effects of celebrity culture and its vacuous ‘dream a dream’ promises. Like ‘Gomorrah’, it’s set in a rough-and-ready part of Naples (many of the grizzled faces are the same), and it gives us Luciano (Aniello Arena), a lively fishseller, family man and occasional party entertainer. After a brush with Enzo, a recent ‘Big Brother’ contestant and now a national hero (catchphrase: ‘Never give up!’), Luciano develops an unhealthy obsession with becoming a cast member on the show himself.
We witness something like the reverse of the Pinocchio story as Luciano’s feet float further and further above the ground. Garrone mixes a powerfully real sense of time and place – present-day, working-class Naples, with its big bellies and loud voices – with an intriguing dash of the mythic and carnivalesque, and his camera and his director’s eye are constantly travelling. ‘Reality’ peters out slightly, ending on a melancholic note that’s unsatisfying, but Garrone mostly gives us something troubling and thought-provoking, a riotous party that turns toxic.