By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 20, 2013 at 3:40PM
Italian Matteo Garrone is a filmmaker to watch. He has chops, and range. Italy submitted his last film "Gomorra" for the Oscars, a gritty slice of the uber-violent underworld. His follow-up "Reality" (March 22) is a much lighter fairy tale fable about a man, well-played by sad-eyed prisoner actor Aniello Arena, obsessed with getting his family on Italian reality show "Big Brother." It's a delightfully colorful comedy in the classical Fellini tradition. Working class actor Arena, 43, has served 20 years time for a triple homicide; he began acting in prison 12 years ago. After its debut in Cannes competition, "Reality" screened at Toronto, where Garrone gave a Q & A.
Question: Where did the story come from?
Matteo Garrone: It's based on a true story that happened to a friend in Italy. TV in Italy is very powerful. We did not want to denounce 'Big Brother,' the movie operates on many levels. He was following this false paradise. Television is a different type of religion.
The family of this guy was very similar. We wanted to make a fairy tale with a lot of colors. It's hard to find a balance between realism and the fantastic dimension of a dream. The movie is trying to walk a little line between these two elements. The square where he works was all rebuilt by us, there was nothing. We were trying to recreate a sort of reality, use a magic realism. 'Gomorrah''s style was more like documentary, with that story it was more important for the audience to forget everything and feel like they were in that place. This movie is different in approach, the comic actors are from the theater or cabaret, they are not nonprofessionals.
We made this movie because we thought that it could be connected to the tradition of the great Italian directors like De Sica and Fellini or the great directors of the Comedie Italienne, that was my reference. I tried to make it simple, not too intellectual, I tried to give it emotion. I like a movie to give an emotional experience.
Where did you find Aniello Arena?
MG: Our lead actor I discovered in prison. My father was a critic of theater; I used to go with him to see a prison theater company. Arena was the leading actor. I wanted him also for 'Gomorrah,' but he was difficult to get. I succeeded with this movie. He was put in prison when he was 22, he's been there 20 years. This is his first movie, you see in the eyes as he makes the journey around the country, how he's surprised, like when he goes to Cinecitta. It's another place, something new for him. During the day we shoot, in the night he went back to prison. I was thinking about a Pixar movie, sort of like a cartoon. I love the character, I didn't want to make fun of him. It's based in Naples where there are lots of people who eat a lot.