“Reality” is not only a modern-day fairytale, but also a reflection on the pitfalls of fame, wealth and celebrity culture.
Meet Luciano: a charismatic fishmonger and family man who becomes obsessed with the prospect of landing a spot on the Italian version of the reality show “Big Brother.” What ensues is a comedic yet troubling exploration of an individual consumed by the limelight, set against the picturesque backdrop of Naples, Italy.
“Reality” is directed by groundbreaking filmmaker Matteo Garrone, whose 2008 feature “Gomorrah” is considered a landmark achievement in contemporary Italian cinema. The East Valley Tribune recently caught up with Garrone to discuss the film, incarcerated leading man Aniello Arena and what films Garrone has enjoyed lately.
Q: I understand that you got the idea for “Reality” from a similar situation that happened to your wife’s brother. What about his story made you think it would be a compelling feature film and could you share with me your writing process?
A: When I knew about this story, I thought it was really surprising so I thought it could be a modern fairytale, in a way. It was also the opportunity to develop a character that was confused about what was real and what was not real. Also, I liked the idea of developing a character that creates another character, like Luciano’s story. I like the idea that this character, in the end, creates a new character because he thinks this new character will be better and will succeed. I think it’s a very modern aspect of our society. We focused on the human aspects of this character and tried to make a psychological journey of Luciano.
At the same time, we tried to make a geographical journey across my country and across the contradiction of my country. The contradiction of capitalism, in a way – not just my country but it can also be your country. Those were just the things that were very important for us. What’s not important at all is the program 'Big Brother.' 'Big Brother' can be something else; that was not important. What’s important for us is that you want him to succeed, to reach his goal, to arrive in television and exist.
For many people who arrive in television, it doesn’t just mean cameras and everything, but it means to exist and to have a specification of your existence. It’s more of a problem of (the) existential. This aspect was very interesting and that’s why we decided to tell this story. We were trying to be very human. We wanted to be very close to him, because Luciano, he is very close to me and to many people that I know. We all live in the same society. We all are very weak from the seduction of society.
Q: I read that you discovered Aniello in a prison theater company. Could you tell me about your first time seeing him perform and what qualities of his really convinced you he was perfect for Luciano?
A: I was already familiar with Aniello because my father was a critic of theater and was a fan of his. I was really impressed with the talents of Aniello, the actor, and his face. It was very important that this character had to be honest and charismatic, and I thought that Aniello was both. Also he has to be a believable character, a working-class guy that works in markets with his fish stand.
It was difficult finding an actor that comes from the middle class, so we decided to try a challenge, because it’s his first movie, and of course it was not easy to shoot with him because we had to respect the time. We had to create a program and respect the time because at night he had to go back to prison. In the end, I’m very, very happy that we worked together. I think he gave to this performance something really unique… He combines his personal experience with his talent as an actor, so that was really wonderful.
Q: One thing that really stuck out to me was the look of the film – everything was bright pastels and very dreamlike but not in a distracting way either. Could you tell me about what you wished to evoke with the aesthetics of this film and just your cinematography in general?
A: It was very difficult because we tried to bring this story into another dimension… We were always trying to blur the line between realism and dream. It was not easy to find the right tone, but I mean, that was our goal: trying to be believable, you know, realistic, but at the same time, we could say that it was all a dream or a nightmare, depending on the moment.
Q: A lot of critics have said that this is the type of film they imagine Federico Fellini would have made if he were still around today.
A: I grew up watching Fellini movies, and you can definitely relate how he’s important to me, but I think that you can’t make an imitation of Fellini. You’d have to be mad to make an imitation of Fellini because his films are so personal. We tried to be personal, and at the same time, we took some lessons from the great master of Italian cinema… The film is reverent to many great Italian directors, but when we made this project, we just tried to tell the story in a simple, authentic and human way.
Q: Are there any films that you’ve seen recently that you’ve especially enjoyed or would recommend?
A: A film I saw that I liked very much was “The Master,” by Paul Thomas Anderson. I liked “Django (Unchained)” very much. I also liked the festival film that was nominated for the Oscar with the American director from Louisiana… ”Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Yes, that’s it.