03/13/2013 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Reality

Film: Reality (2012)
Cast includes: Aniello Arena (first film), Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone (Welcome to the South)
Writer/Director: Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah)
Genre: Comedy | Drama (116 minutes) Italian with subtitles

As the camera lovingly scans the rooftops of Naples, a gold-gilt horse-drawn carriage eventually catches our eye. We follow the carriage into La Sonrisa, where we join an extravagant wedding celebration. After photos in front of the waterfall, there's dancing and other festivities. Luciano, a natural born Italian ham, normally acts as MC... but today the main attraction is Enzo, the host of a popular TV reality show called "Big Brother." So Luciano enlivens the act by playing a drag queen heckler. It's a great show, and everyone has a wonderful time. Enzo leave the newlyweds with a lovely thought, "Hold on to your dreams. Never give up." The next day, the glitter and extravagance have given way to daily life. Luciano is a fishmonger in the town square, plus he always has a couple of moneymaking schemes on the side. His charms never fail to win customers and friends.

When Luciano's kids learn that Enzo is back in Naples for Big Brother tryouts, they beg their dad to audition. Luciano reluctantly agrees and thinks no more about it when the audition is over. But much to his surprise, Big Brother invites Luciano to a second audition in Rome. This time when it's over, Luciano is elated. He knows he has to wait for the phone call, but he's positive he's aced it. Back in Naples, he gets a hero's welcome home. It's hard to contain the exhilaration... "Luck only knocks once. If I win Big Brother, we'll be set for life." No more selling fish, no more selling questionable kitchen gadgets, no more struggling to make ends meet. The next day a stranger comes by the fish stand and asks for free fish. Luciano sends him away. But come to think of it... that wasn't the only odd thing that happened today. What if Big Brother is still watching him? If this is a test, Luciano's not going to fail.

Luciano remembers what Enzo always says... "Hold on to your dreams. Never give up." Well, he won't give up! Anyone who's ever bought a lottery ticket knows how seductive the dream is... until they draw the numbers and they aren't yours. So it's not hard to put yourself in Luciano's place. Luciano really is the life of the party... of course, they'll choose him... without a doubt... except... why haven't they called yet? Everyone loves Luciano, so they want to believe, too... up to a point. Reality is a raucous, enthusiast joy ride with great music and shades of Fellini. Many think Aniello Arena gives a breakout performance as the lovable Luciano... although "breakout" might not be the best choice of words... as Arena, in real life, is serving a life sentence for a double murder. He began acting in the prison theater company, where he was discovered. (Really!) He had to return to the prison each night after filming. Challenging as that may have been, the writer/director feels that his biggest challenge was to maintain the delicate balance between fantasy and reality. Luciano's grip on reality is obviously distorted by his belief that "Big Brother may be watching." Cut to a scene at Sunday mass... in the real world... the one where friends and neighbors never behave irrationally. After all, Big Papa may be watching.

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
A fishmonger wins an audition for a popular Italian reality show and loses his grip on what's real and what's a reality show

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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You may want to read about other recent Italian films:

The Double Hour


We Have a Pope