At 43 director Matteo Garrone has accomplished something that every other director in the world would kill for; he’s won the Grand Prix at Cannes not once but twice, in 2008 for Gomorrah, and again in 2012 for Reality, which opens today in Italian movie theaters. This year he served on the jury at the Venice film festival and has threatened to never return there because of the perceived snubbing of Italian films. I’m hoping that he’s just saying this out of respect for his elder, Marco Bellocchio, whose Bella Addormentata went home from the festival empty-handed, because Garrone should stay in the game, not run away from it. Matteo Garrone is one of the directors that will help Italy compete in that game in the future.
Garrone, a trained painter, stands out for his extremely realistic and visual movies, and he and Paolo Sorrentino are seen by movie critics all over the world as two directors who will be important in the resurrection of Italian cinema. Some see in their films a new Italian Neorealism and Garrone admits to an unconscious influence of Neorealist filmmakers such as Rossellini, but says that since Neorealism was a product of the post-War period its unique social and economic conditions make them very different from what he is doing.
Never-the-less, reality is not just the name of his current film, but also the most important element in his movies, and he’s famous for using non-professional actors in them. In fact, Aniello Arena, the star of the film, Reality, was widely applauded at Cannes but could not attend the premier – he’s serving a life sentence for murder. In Reality, Arena played a Naples fishmonger who becomes obsessed with appearing on a “Big Brother”-style TV show and did his work with day passes from prison.
Garrone’s 2008 Gomorrah was so real that it drew death threats for the author of the book that it was based on. Roberto Saviano, who wrote the screenplay with Garrone lived in hiding for years, and still doesn’t go anywhere without bodyguards for his story about the Camorra, Naples’ bloody organized crime group.
When Gomorrah didn’t get an Oscar nomination, Saviano was disappointed, but Garrone seemed unfazed; ““It’s the film that matters, not the Oscar,” he said.
We’ll find out today if Garrone will have another crack at the Academy Award with this year’s Reality. They’re announcing the film that will be submitted today, and Reality was on the list of those films being considered.