Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reality (Philadelphia Film Festival)

Having seen Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah" will not prepare you for his new film, this year's Cannes Gran Prix winner "Reality." It's pretty much an 180* turn from that grounded, despairing work. Garrone her shifts to a much lighter and brasher tone and a flashier style, drawing from Fellini and Max Ophuls to craft a sendup of trivial ambition and religious devotion. His greatest asset comes in the form of Aniello Arena, apparently an imprisoned member of the Mafia (whom Garrone may have found while doing research for his previous film). This may be the only film he's ever in, and he surely gives the performance of a lifetime, playing his Luciano as vivacious and awed and out of his mind. Uniformly strong, he helps the film through its bland setup and patchier sections to help Garrone bring his emblematic story to good fruition.

We first see Luciano in his favored habitat, entertaining at a wedding. He hams it up as a drag queen alongside Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), a vapid celebrity who got pretty far on "Big Brother." Much praised for his amusing antics, Luciano wants the stardom and admiration Enzo has. His current life as a seller of fish and cooking robots lacks those things, but it takes the incessant pressuring of his daughters and the support of his large family to get him to try and audition for the show. 

Now, obviously, men in their 30s and 40s are unlikely to compete against hot and fit people a decade or so younger than they are. Nor should they: at that point in one's life, the time for lazing around in pools and fucking everyone in sight is most likely diminishing. But, for whatever reason, Luciano gets incredibly into the idea of being on this empty show. Following an audition where he said he gave his all, he starts thinking his behavior is constantly monitored. Previously focused on making every dollar he could, Luciano starts being more charitable, to the delight of his Catholic assistant Michele (Nando Paone). At this point, the film begins making clearer analogies to the pursuit of salvation. It follows this trajectory all the way to the final sequence, which I thought was transcendent but which will annoy or turn many off. 

The last shot (rhyming with the first) is a work of genius. Throughout the film, Garrone shows his range, carefully composing certain shots and letting the camera run often for minutes on end. He lets himself loose, showing a side that was unseen in at least "Gomorrah" (though I know he's made crazier films in the past). The music, too, is also key in determining the mood, and though it cloys at the start, it helps things literally soar by the end. Maybe it's a little dated (though it's kinda beside the point), and maybe it won't leave a totally lasting imprint, but "Reality" is worth taking in. Arena's acting alone totally validates seeing it. B

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