Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Aniello Arena, Raffaele Ferrante
3 (out of 5) Globes
Named for 1998’s “The Truman Show,” the “Truman Syndrome” is an unofficially recognized strain of schizophrenia whose sufferers feel they’re the subjects of gigantic reality shows, interacting with people paid to observe and manipulate them. “Reality” — from “Gommorah” director Matteo Garrone — inverts the illness, depicting the crack-up of an all-too-unnoticed man looking for a magical door to an entirely observed world. In this case, the big red door leads to the studios of the Italian “Big Brother.” Luciano (Aniello Arena) hustles for his family — primarily as a fishmonger, but also as part of a consumer electronics scam involving expensive food processors.
Luciano is also a sort of wedding clown at a grotesquely Las Vegas-ish hotel mocked up like Versailles (the hotel La Sonrisa in Sorrento, as gaudily tacky on its website as it’s shown to be here). 18th-century costumery combines with piped-in 19th century music for the ceremonies, which turns into 20th-century pop tunes for post-dinner dancing — a combination of anachronistic distractions from past ages, culminating in an appearance from “Big Brother” contestant Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante).
Having survived 115 days on the show, Enzo is an in-demand/affordable minor celebrity. Even that would be a step up for Luciano, who snags an hour-long audition at Cinecitta Studios, Italy’s legendary shooting facility, whose use deliberately invokes countless Fellini films and Luchino Visconti’s “Bellissima,” in which pushy stage mom Anna Magnani forces her daughter through a humiliating audition. Luciano’s shot at stardom goes much better, and he prepares to officially be invited to the show. But the confirmation call never calls.
Cinecitta is now the home of the real Italian “Big Brother,” and Garrone suggests pervasive reality TV has replaced the movies as the latest fantasy life to aspire to, with only the Catholic Church an equal, much more durable competitor. The more he isn’t called, the surer Luciano is he’s being watched by invisible scouts. When he turns away a homeless man asking for food, he’s positive his lack of generosity’s killed his chances for TV fame. Looking for a sign he’ll join the cast, he gives away his possessions. The parallels between seeking absolution from ephemeral media fame and God aren’t subtle. “We’re all watched,” Luciano’s devout friend Michele (Nando Paone) tells him. “Our lord observes.” Luciano’s paranoia increasingly confines the film to claustrophobic, inward spirals between impoverished locations. It’s overextended satire, arguing its case with increasingly diminishing pungency.