Young Italian director Matteo Garrone became known in the U.S. when "Gomorrah" — his sprawling 2008 look at contemporary organized crime in Naples — won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was selected as Italy's official Oscar entry. He won the same Cannes award again last year with his sardonic comedy "Reality" , one of the most rewarding films to be released in the U.S. in 2013. The reward may, by the end, seem a lump of coal, but like I say: sardonic.
Where "Gomorrah" intertwined multiple stories, "Reality" focuses in tightly on Luciano (Aniello Arena), the fame-obsessed owner of a small Neapolitan fish market. Luciano is constantly ebullient and outgoing, perhaps even obnoxious, but it's hard to dislike his upbeat attitude. He knows he is destined for greatness. Unfortunately, no one else does.
Convinced that his vehicle to fame will be a popular "Big Brother"-like reality TV show, he manages to push his way in for an audition in Rome, to the embarrassment of his family. He arrives home convinced that the producers loved him and that he is a shoo-in. He is suddenly his neighborhood's hero, cheered on by all. When (predictably) he doesn't make the cut, he feels sure that he will added as a new character later in the season.
His dreams turn to delusions: believing that the TV show has spies watching him to make sure he's a worthy contestant, he decides to show them what a generous guy he is, giving away everything he owns, much to the horror of his family.
"Reality" has been compared, with some justification, to Martin Scorsese's "King of Comedy," but it just as strongly resembles the work of Preston Sturges — primarily "Christmas in July" with a touch of "Hail the Conquering Hero!" thrown in. It's a savage portrait of the cult of celebrity and the fictions sponsored by the one percent to mislead the other ninety-nine. You could call the whole thing bittersweet, but it's first half of the word that handily dominates.
"Reality" (Oscilloscope Laboratories, Blu-ray, $34.99; DVD, $32.99)
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).