Magic realist drama from Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone
Meet Luciano (Aniello Arena), a Neapolitan fish-seller and minor scam artist. Encouraged by his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli), three children and extended family, he enters the local try-outs for the popular reality TV series Grande Fratelli (Big Brother), and is soon called to the Cinecitta studios in Rome for a second round of auditions. Convinced that he will be chosen as a contestant, he returns home and sells his business, because fame will surely provide endless riches. Much to Maria’s alarm, he even starts giving away his material possessions to the poor to demonstrate his charitable nature.
Although it’s set primarily in Naples, this magic realist fable is a much more stylized film than director Matteo Garrone’s acclaimed Mafia portrait Gomorrah. Taking his cue from Federico Fellini, he opens with stunning aerial shots of a golden carriage driven by plumed white horses through a suburban sprawl: the destination is a supremely kitsch wedding, attended by both a dragged-up Luciano, and a special guest who’s parachuted in by helicopter, a recent Grande Fratelli winner Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante).
Favouring long, roaming takes, Garrone and his cinematographer Marco Onorato contrast the crumbling tenements of the impoverished inner-city neighbourhood inhabited by Luciano and his relatives with the shiny, hyperreal world of mediated mass entertainment. Currently serving a prison-sentence for Mafia-related killings, Arena proves a compelling lead, conveying his character’s quick-witted likeability and his eventual descent into a delusional state. And the film itself serves a powerful metaphor for Berlusconi-era Italy, in which Catholicism has seemingly been supplanted by a hysterical collective craving for celebrity status.
Showing as part of London Film Festival, Thu 11, Fri 12 and Sun 14 Oct.