sun 25/08/2019

Interview: Film Director Matteo Garrone | reviews, news & interviews

Interview: Film Director Matteo Garrone

Interview: Film Director Matteo Garrone

The director of Gomorrah discusses his new Cannes-winning film Reality, which counts the cost of reality TV

What's my line? Luciano (Aniello Arena) prepares to perform helped by long-suffering wife Maria (Loredana Simioli)

When Matteo Garrone’s sixth film Gomorrah won the 2008 Grand Prix at Cannes, it announced Italian cinema’s resurrection to the world. When his follow-up, Reality, won the 2012 Grand Prix, opinion was more divided. Where Gomorrah rigorously exposed the inescapable impact of the Camorra gangs on Naples and the surrounding region, giving a grimly compelling tour of a hidden world, Reality is the more slippery tale of Luciano (Aniello Arena), an amiable, amusing Naples fishmonger pushed by his family to enter a heat for Italy’s Big Brother, Grande Fratello. The possibility of appearing on TV consumes him, comically then tragically, as the film darkens into a nightmare. Paranoia makes him see agents of the TV show everywhere, and drives his loving family from him.

Gomorrah shows a crime system from the bottom,” Garrone, (pictured right), tells me on the phone from Rome, “and Reality shows the show business system from the bottom - from the victim’s point of view. Reality for me is a black fairy tale, the same as Gomorrah was in a way. The temptation arises from Luciano’s family, from the neighbours. So it’s that contagion that comes from a society, and that’s the tragedy. Everybody in that family, that part of society, that neighbourhood wants to escape their everyday reality, that’s one of the most sad things about the story. Because they have everything! They are not so poor, but they want to reach the artificial paradise. But that story’s something that really happened, to the brother of my wife, and I remember that all the family pushed him, at that time, to be a television star, because he was nice. At every family party, everybody laughed, because he was very funny. So everybody thinks that he was perfect to be in television. I think it’s very common. And he went through this nightmare.”

Garrone’s intimacy with the real Luciano is one remarkable fact I didn’t know when I first saw and found myself haunted by Reality. The other is that Aniello Arena (pictured left), the charismatic lead actor with the expressively yearning face, worked on day-release from Volterra prison, where he’s serving life without parole for shooting three rival gangsters dead in a Camorra hit in 1991. Having seen him act in the prison theatre run by his friend Armando Punzo, Garrone had wanted Arena to play a hitman in Gomorrah. The parole board understandably baulked. Arena has used acting to mentally escape the life which Gomorrah shows is almost inevitable in Naples’ concrete suburbs. He was up for the acting prize in Cannes, and his performance has an indelible, mercurial quality. Was his background important to Garrone?

“Well, what’s very important,” he says, “is to find a face that could be believable as a working-class guy who sells fish in a poor part of Naples. I remembered I was really impressed when I saw Aniello, many times, in the theatre, I was a big fan of the company where he’s worked for 14 years. So I asked the judge if I could have the chance to work with him in cinema. And I think the fact that he was a really talented actor, and that at the same time he was in jail for 20 years, meant that he really discovered a world during his journey in the movie, together with the character. So you can see in the eyes of Luciano/Aniello the surprise when he sees something that is completely new.”

The gaudy sweep of Reality’s opening scene at a wedding, in which reality TV star Enzio (Raffaele Ferrante) helicopters in to entertain the happy couple, steps outside Gomorrah’s (pictured above) realistic parameters, in which Garrone made himself stylistically invisible to show the Cammora’s system straight and true. Now Fellini and his sometimes grotesque, carnivalesque example, so oppressive to generations of Italian directors who felt unable to compete with a glorious cinematic past, seems deliberately invoked.

“Well, it’s true,” Garrone concedes, “that probably my reference in Gomorrah was Rossellini, and something which is very close to Reality is the earliest movies of Fellini, like The White Sheikh, because it’s a story of a character who follows his dreams, and then he loses - an amazing movie. And three months ago, in Rimini [Fellini’s hometown], the Foundation Fellini made a night called The Big Dream, showing The White Sheikh and Reality together. The beginning of Reality is a way to declare it’s all unreal, in a way. Luciano moves always in this subtle line between something that is real, and something that is surreal - like a dream, or a nightmare. So it was not easy to find the balance, and it was a very complex and difficult movie. Also because it talks about television - it’s more a movie about the audience than about television, but at the same time it was important to find a way visually and figuratively to talk about television in cinema. That was a big challenge.”

There’s a wholly unexpected and magical scene inside the Grande Fratello studio at dead of night, passing beyond silhouettes of creaking cameras the audience never sees, to the ambient swimming pool splashes and murmurs from distant rooms you hear when you turn the programme on in the small hours. Here it isn’t tawdry, but the sound of the reality TV gods at play; a glimpse of the paradise Luciano desires. Garrone leaves reality behind, to achieve a dreamy transcendence cinema rarely manages. He gives a glimpse of another realm, and his own potential. “It’s like some fiction - abstract, and surreal,” he says of the scene. “I didn’t want to make a movie denouncing television, it’s too easy. And we wanted to be close to the character, and tell this story with humanity.”

In another striking scene, Luciano’s family, (pictured above being filmed), are relieved when his obsession switches to religion. But when he travels to the Vatican, it’s just one more spectacle, joining crime and TV in Garrone’s triptych of Italian distractions. “It’s true that it’s a movie about the capitalist society, and faith,” he says. “But this combination was also in the true story, and I just tried to be faithful to these elements.”

The real Luciano, at least, has woken from his TV dream.

“Yes, fortunately the real one, with the money for being the subject of the movie, bought the fish shop, and now there is a fish shop called Luciano’s, where he sells fish again. And so we have a sort of happy ending for the real Luciano. But during that period, he really lost himself. The true story was more tragic than the movie, because he was almost going to commit suicide. It was really dark. But finally he got out of this nightmare, and after one year, thanks to the family, now he’s okay, the fish shop is going well again. He found himself again.”

Matteo Garrone’s searching, sad sympathy for the lost ones of Italy also carries steadily on.

  • Reality is out at selected cinemas from Friday.

Watch the trailer for Reality



Aniello Arena, the charismatic lead actor with the expressively yearning face, is serving life without parole for shooting three rival gangsters dead

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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