Reality (2012), dir. Matteo Garrone

reality

Reality is more than just a film about reality television: it also acts as a parable on family and obsessive belief. The phenomenon of Big Brother (1997-present) is not merely television, but its sociological implications are fascinating.

For Luciano, Big Brother represents opportunity and fortune: despite his already respectable home, furnished with elaborate lampshades and with the economic power to take his family on holidays, it offers the potential to create the world’s most perfect, happiest family. But the path is not one towards happiness; the myth of fame is the path towards broken families, depression and a shattered community.

There are some interesting parallels to Rocky (1976): in Rocky, we are introduced to an everyman from Philadelphia, whose seemingly impossible journey to winning the title is not out of pure greed, but to make a name for his city and its small, family-owned businesses. Luciano becomes the talk of the town, and as a fishmonger in Naples, is interested in supporting this business. Luciano also achieves his dream – but does he go about it in the right way? Big Brother no longer becomes the path towards his desire, as a stepping stone to a prosperous family, but his end goal.

In another way, it is a satirical take on Christianity – a warning on how modern television becomes a distraction from religion, yet as an empty, meaningless farce. The old myth was religion (immortality and happiness) – the modern myth is the path towards fame. Luciano becomes a charitable saint of sorts, giving his homely possessions and blindly spending on the homeless, beyond the point of sorting their lives out. What will a homeless man do with a lamp or a chair? Later, when he is feeding the homeless at a mission, we see a man walking up wearing expensive headphones – but they are still in the same situation as they were in before. Charity work is a deeply religious, humanitarian act – but Luciano does so in order to be spotted by the programme’s producers, supposed secret agents deeming him a good man worthy of appearing on the programme. An invisible, assumed force offering judgement on one’s acts to gain a reward.

In another scene, Luciano speaks to two women besides a memorial candle, asking if they know if he can do anything more to get into the House – capital H. The women think he means the house of God – offering him that all he needs is faith, and he will be able to enter it. Heaven.

In the final scene, Luciano has made a pilgrimage to the Big Brother house in Rome, and secretly sneaks in. But he remains an invisible force – able to watch through two-way mirrors, the same way the programme’s producers look upon the housemates – and stares into a security camera unnoticed. He has become Scrooge, exempt from the rules of time and space, watching on the people within the house – a Paradise of sorts, full of happiness, music and colour. He has become God.

Caesar Must Die (2012), dir. Paolo Taviani & Vittorio Taviana

caesar

Caesar Must Die utilises some documentary elements. The Tavianas never become characters within their own work, but the cinematography is too perfectly composed, the editing too refined and the prisoners who become the film’s subjects perhaps not candid enough to label as ‘fly on the wall’. In many ways, it feels more a drama about a group of actors than a documentary, presenting all the anxiety and the sense of wanting to kill each other that can come with the process of acting.

But it never feels theatrical. None of the actors have microphones; there are no giant LCD screens projecting the performances to a stadium. The footage of the play itself rarely feels like a filmed performance of a play, but it engrosses the viewer as if it were a filmic version. The auditions convey none of the brash, bright colours of The X Factor (2004-present) or Britain’s Got Talent (2006-present), nor the humour and awkwardness of the auditions for big budget films.

These are not the amateur actors that place a rehearsal between their day job and looking after the kids. Prison life is dull, cast in monochrome. The theatre brings colour to their lives, but only on the one night of performance, before they return back to the mundane in the space of minutes. These are men who have been imprisoned for years, if not decades, some of whom are on life sentences. Their days are a routine of staring at the ceiling, eating food, perhaps the odd exercise, perhaps the odd chore, perhaps a book from the library. They have few distractions; it becomes their life, not a hobby. The outside world exists as poorly applied wallpaper, temporarily bringing colour as we look out upon the sea that they will never touch again.

We see the prisoners relate their own experiences to the characters in the play. Not as an exercise by the director, but in their own time and in their own understanding of it, understanding if far better than an everyday actor from the outside. Their own experiences transform them into Roman legionaries; they know the frustration of not being able to see their wife, or the pain of bloody murder, or of drug trafficking. In the close-ups, you can see the pain behind their eyes. When they speak of revolt, it is also the secret wishes of the prisoners themselves. They want libertas.

In many ways, because they embody the characters, it feels more a gritty modern adaptation of Julius Caesar (1599), the confined mazed corridors of the prison standing in for the streets of Rome. The focus isn’t on the rehearsal room, but on the actors performing amongst themselves in their cells, or in the courtyard. At the end of the performance of a scene, we may see a script page, or a discussion about a character’s motivations, or an argument between the real people that carries the same intensity as the characters they are performing. Reality and the fictional characters are blurred. But it acts only as an interjection to the narrative of the play, which we are carried forward through in narrative order until it reaches its stage conclusion.