Reality in Italy. Movies reviewed: Reality, Diaz: Don’t Clean Up this Blood
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Summer is here — makes you want to get out of the sun and sit in a nice, air-conditioned movie theatre, maybe curl up with some popcorn and a warm body or two. Or maybe just stay outside all night long. Well, for the outside crowd, movies are popping up everywhere. Every Tuesday they’re showing free outdoor movies once the sun sets at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Crowd pleasers like Edward Scissorshands, Napoleon Dynamite, and this coming week Sam Raimi’s classic Army of Darkness starring Bruce Campbell and a chainsaw. Or check out the Toronto Palestine Film Fest’s outdoor screening of the popular Checkpoint Rock at the Christie Pits on July 15th – also completely free!
It’s also Canada Day weekend – but what if it rains? Check out the Umbrellas of Cherbourg on Saturday night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of a bitter-sweet Jacques Demy retrospective. And it’s also Pride Day weekend; if you want to shake your booty, don’t miss the throbbing beat in Jamie Kastner’s new tongue-in-cheek documentary The Secret Disco Revolution.
And finally, Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival is open now (downtown and up in Vaughan), So this week I’m looking at two very different dramas about life in recent Italy under right-wing media mogul Berlusconi. One’s a dark comedy about a man in Naples who will do anything to be on a reality TV show; the other a historical drama about a group of protesters in Genoa who want to escape their own grim reality.
Dir: Matteo Garrone
What is reality? A new film by the Neapolitan director of the great gangster movie Gomorra asks that question. The movie starts with a golden, horse-drawn carriage arriving at a lavish rococo palace. A well-dressed couple runs through the gilt-lined hallways to prepare for a big event. Who are these rich powerful people? Royalty? CEOs? Celebrities? Nope…it’s all artifice. They’re just guests at a wedding.
Luciano (Aniello Arena) is a well-liked fishmonger in modern-day Naples. He’s a fast talker with a sense of humour – a born entertainer. Muscular and tattooed, he has a fish stall in the marketplace and knows everybody. His time is filled with his job, his family, and his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli). They’re also involved in a complicated scam involving white- elephant robots that make pasta. Surrounded by his odd-looking extended family in the ruins of Naples, he manages to eke out a living.
But, after a brief encounter with Enzo, a minor TV celebrity at the wedding, he decides to go to a local audition for Big Brother. Big Brother is a grotesque reality show, popular in Europe, where contestants give up all privacy to live together in a glass house filled with cameras and microphones. Their day-to-day lives are edited and broadcast to the adoring but cruel public.
As time passes, and he still hasn’t received the call, he decides to follow Enzo’s vapid catch phrase: Never give up! He becomes convinced that he’s being spied on – just like on the show – by TV executives from Rome who are judging his character. He abandons his parsimonious ways, and becomes lavishly generous to everyone he knows… even to strangers.
Luciano’s character becomes more and more erratic and nonsensical as his obsession with TV takes over his life. Is it all an illusion? Or will Luciano actually become a part of the surreal world of reality TV?
I enjoyed Reality – it’s a good absurdist take on the effects of mass media. As in Gomorra, Garonne casts strange, interesting locals for many of the supporting roles and shoots it in locations all around Naples. But this dark, absurdist comedy — with none of shocking violence and tension of Gamorra — leaves you feeling the emptiness of mass media, as detached as the character Luciano.
Dir: Daniele Vicari
In 2001, the G8 summit in Genoa, hosted by then Prime Minister Berlusconi, attracted protesters from across Europe. What happened there is the subject of this truly shocking historical drama.
Street protesters became angry after a local student, 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead by the Carabiniere (military police). Protesters threw beer bottles while police used tear gas. Then came the incident which the movie concentrates on. Many activists, students and protesters – as well as all of the reporters covering them – are camped out in the empty Armando Diaz schoolhouse.
A huge number of police, many brought in from outside areas, descend on the school in the middle of the night. They attack students and journalists alike, men and women lying in their sleeping bags. They go wild, breaking bones, cracking skulls, kicking, and clubbing everyone they see. Dragged down stairways, herded into vans they are brought, en masse, to police stations. The least lucky are sent to the now infamous town of Bolzaneto, where they are subject to humiliation and torture. Women are stripped naked, men chained up and treated like dogs.
This is an extremely shocking drama, based entirely on existing footage and first person testimony given afterwards. Although different in style, it evokes scenes from Pier Paolo Pasolini’sSalo: 100 days of Sodom, Denis Villeneuve’sPolytechnique or even the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.
The movie is presented as a drama. You get to meet some of the individuals: a young female protester from Germany, a French journalist, a sympathetic local policeman who hears screams through the bathroom pipes, a local conservative reporter caught up in the attack. This makes it easier to identify with what happens to them, and all the more moving. But most of the film is a record of the harrowing incidents themselves and their effect on the participants. (And it makes you wonder: far from being held up as an unmitigated disaster, police seem to be intentionally repeating the techniques of Genoa like clockwork at each successive G8 summit, ensuring mass arrests and horrible violence.) Diaz is not a fun movie to watch, but it is an important one and a real eye-opener. (I reviewed an Italian documentary on the same topic last year: Black Block).
Reality and Diaz are both playing at Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival (go to icff.ca for details). And the Bitter/Sweet Jacques Demy retrospective and The Secret Disco Revolution are both on now.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,culturalmining.com.