Of course, "Big Brother" and other trapped-in-a-house reality programs already take on Orwellian ramifications, but "Reality" takes it one step further: The movie shifts from a plucky tale of blue-collar misadventures to a media-fueled horror show. As Luciano grows convinced that the program has invaded his life, his enthusiasm devolves into paranoia and he begins to believe, as his wife puts it, "the TV is watching him."
Garrone's patient approach lets this idea permeate Luciano's life through a progression that can feel, particularly in its middle sections, somewhat directionless. However, the very same ambiguity about the movie's intentions underscore Luciano's instability. An ebullient, Disneyesque soundtrack by the great Alexandre Desplat ("Moonrise Kingdom," "The Tree of Life") contributes to an illusory sense of uplift that runs counter to the events actually taking place -- or how they appear to take place.
"Reality" may, in fact, put an end to the idea of Garrone as a traditional neorealist; his naturalism is intentionally misleading right up until the simultaneously haunting and wondrous finale. Critics were comparing it to Martin Scorsese's showbiz satire "King of Comedy" almost immediately after the first screening at Cannes, an apt reference point since both movies deal not with the pratfalls of fame but its impact on those obsessed with achieving it for the wrong reasons.
The reality-show aesthetic pervades the movie as well. Garrone's roaming camera style draws you into each moment with extreme close-ups and long takes that wander through each scene and get lost in it. Luciano's plight is crushing because Garrone renders it with such detail. To a certain degree, "Reality" is actually a reality show with greater resonance than "Big Brother."
Criticwire grade: A-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Although not bound for major commercial success, "Reality" should continue to play well along the festival circuit and land a midsized U.S. release where it could garner strong reactions in major cities in addition to VOD (akin to the popularity that greeted "Gomorroah").