(Matteo Garrone, 2012)
One of the many things that really leaps out during Matteo Garrone's Reality is Alexandre Desplat's score. It swirls and twinkles away and generally sounds like it might have been composed for a film filled with magic and whimsy. It sounds like it belongs in a fairytale, and Garrone allows it enough prominence to make that obvious.
There is a fairytale aspect to this story - Luciano (Aniello Arena) follows a dream and for a brief instant his life seems full of possibility, transformed by a charge of glimmering glamour, acclaim from all who know him. But then, like many fairytales, a darkness enters the story, and slowly, finally overwhelms it.
The story centres on one mans obsession Italy's version of Big Brother. Luciano runs a Naples fish stall in an Italy which seems - just like the stereotypes suggest - to exist a few decades in the past, in a pre-digital world. He lives in a crumbling building and Naples is depicted as a sprawling mess of beautiful, ancient wrecks, old women in shift dresses shopping at markets and going to Mass.
In this world, Big Brother represents escape, Rome, show business, youth, fame, money. Luciano, at first shown as happy in his busy life and adored by his friends and family for his extrovert ways, is bullied into auditioning by his children.
But when he feels his audition might have been successful, something in him changes, and his relationship with the show and his own ambition twists inside him. When the show begins and he has not received a call from the producers, he becomes paranoid, feeling he is being watched by people from the television company who need to see if he is suitable. He begins to alienate those around him; his family and friends.
Garrone shoots all this in a series of beautifully blocked, long, mobile takes, the camera orbiting Arena's amazing face as it takes in his world in all its vibrant colour. This obviously means the film pulses with verisimilitude, which gives this parable some sting. There is grit here, texture to the world Luciano inhabits, love and humour in a life which is nice, if far from perfect, before his obsession takes hold. The satire is never particularly sharp, but its does find its target, and turns painful before long. That this is an Italy in the grip of a financial crisis is never in doubt - these are people struggling for money, people hoping for an escape, and that makes Luciano's growing desperation all the more believable.
His televisual church is juxtaposed with Catholicism, and the somewhat ambiguous though disturbing ending feels just right. The cast are nicely naturalistic throughout, and Arena is particularly good; his open face is rivetingly watchable, registering his slow decline in his big, sad eyes.