What could be better than a slot on Italy's version of Big Brother?
At first, director Matteo Garrone's Reality may seem a little passé, an amusing if predictably satirical look at the ways reality television can encourage even the most obscure among us to crave celebrity. In this case, the reality show is the Italian version of Big Brother (Grande Fratello) and the celebrity-craving man who wants to become part of it is Luciano (Aniello Arena), the operator of a fish stand in an open-air market in Naples. Perhaps because he does a well-received female impersonation at family weddings, Luciano sees no reason why he shouldn't leave the friendly confines of his Neapolitan marketplace and become a hot commodity in the national media marketplace. After he auditions for the show, Luciano begins spending capital he has yet to earn. Luciano (and everyone he knows) begins to act as if his anointment as a bona fide celebrity already has taken place. He carries this to an extreme that ultimately frustrates his wife (Loredana Simioli) and his large and blunt-spoken extended family. Luciano even sells his business on the theory that he'll soon be cashing in on his Big Brother fame. Luciano's unrelenting obsessiveness, artfully conveyed by Arena, rescues what could have been a middling comedy. Garrone made a splash with Gomorrah (2008), an entirely different and unremittingly harsh crime drama, also set in Naples. Garrone's comic touch makes Reality easy to take, although -- in its way -- this comic fable is colored by an undertow of strenuous criticism of those for whom reality television means losing all touch with reality -- and that includes both those who participate and those who watch.