Italian director Matteo Garrone certainly knows how to stage an entrance. The follow-up to his extraordinary gangster drama Gomorrah (2008) starts with a sweeping helicopter shot above Naples and gradually zooms in on a gold-bedecked horse and buggy, anachronistically transporting a couple to their tacky, all-too-contemporary wedding. Things get only more garishly grim inside, with amateur clown cutup Luciano (Aniello Arena) encountering a reality-TV personality (Raffaele Ferrante) and contemplating his own rise to dubious fame. After netting a callback for the Italian iteration of Big Brother, Luciano sells his fishmonger business in order to fully dedicate himself to getting on the show. He’s convinced the program’s execs are surreptitiously vetting him through real-world ethics tests; before long he’s given away his belongings, ostracized his family and lost all touch with, yes, reality.
This vision of contemporary Italy as a warped fairyland filled with corpulent slobs and seedy C-grade celebrities recalls the tough-love spectacle of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, but Reality frustratingly devolves into a far more tedious mass-media morality tale. In case you haven’t heard (or read any killjoy think pieces of the past 60 years), television will pervert your values and drain your brain, as will—another news flash!—churchly faith. Garrone’s extravagant crane-shot virtuosity only exacerbates a sense of superiority over characters that aren’t presented as humanely flawed so much as minor variants on the usual working-class boob and rube.
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