Share story

Like an early-1960s movie musical, Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” begins with a sweeping panoramic view of the territory that will pre­occupy the movie for the next couple of hours.

Think of Julie Andrews bouncing through the mountains in “The Sound of Music” or the gangs holding their New York turf in “West Side Story.” That’s how Garrone and his versatile cameraman, Marco Onorato, want us to see the Neapolitan harbor where most of the action takes place.

The misguided hero, Luciano (Aniello Arena), sells fish in the town square, but he’s a nonstop entertainer with showbiz ambitions, and he dreams of becoming a television celebrity on the Italian version of the “Big Brother” reality show. Gradually what may have seemed harmless obsessiveness threatens to lead to a nervous breakdown.

The plot suggests an Italian version of “Waiting for Guffman,” Christopher Guest’s tale of a small-time theatrical troupe that’s hoping and waiting for a Broadway break, but it goes off in several different directions. At one point, as Luciano gives away his possessions, the New Testament seems to offer hope for Luciano’s predicament.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Flirting with religion, however, leads to still more unexpected consequences — and a search for a Fellini-esque ending that will tie up a few loose ends. While the movie doesn’t find it (Arena unfortunately makes a less-than-compelling screen presence), it does make an honorable attempt.

For all its ups and downs and occasional detours into boorishness, it’s an original that will surprise if not necessarily delight fans of Garrone’s very different crime drama, “Gomorrah.”

While “Amour” was collecting the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Reality” won the Grand Prize — perhaps because it’s not like anything else out there.

John Hartl:

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.