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The director: Matteo Garrone (Italian, 43 years old)
The talent: You'd have to be pretty au fait with contemporary Italian cinema to recognize most of the cast members here: the biggest name on offer is Claudia Gerini, best known for supporting turns in Italian hits "Don't Move" and "The Other Woman," as well as minor appearances in "The Passion of the Christ" and "Under the Tuscan Sun." The young actor Ciro Petrone, who made an impression four years ago in Garrone's "Gomorrah" (if the image of a gangly youth in his underwear brandishing a gun comes to mind, you're there), reappears here -- as, on the evidence of some other cast members' CVs, does the director's partial affinity for inexperienced actors.
Garrone co-wrote the script with the same three scribes he worked with an "Gomorrah." Also back on board is major Italian producer Domenico Procacci, whose other recent credits range from "We Have a Pope" to "Barney's Version." Garrone's regular cinematographer Marco Onorato, editor Marco Spoletini and production designer Paolo Bonfini return. New to the group are two rather more well-known craftsmen: two-time Oscar-nominated costume designer Maurizio Millenotti, and a certain ubiquitous composer who's also scoring Competition entries "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Rust and Bone." Yes, I erroneously wrote last week that Alexandre Desplat has only two films in the lineup; turns out his reach extends to Italy too. I suspect human cloning.
The pitch: "Gomorrah," Garrone's previous (and breakout) feature, was a furious, vérité-influenced study of Neapolitan organized crime syndicates that dazzled international critics and hit a major social nerve in its home country. Four years later, the Italian is clearly still committed to topical, society-based storytelling, but is coming at it from a lighter place: billed as a comedy, "Reality" (previously titled "Big House") satirizes the country's fixation with reality television. (I know, I know, that's a universal disease -- but seriously, have you seen Italian TV? It warrants special treatment.) Again set in Naples, the film centers on an Italian family unbalanced by its fishmonger patriarch's delusional obsession with the local version of "Big Brother."
The pedigree: Garrone has several previous features to his name -- including titles that competed at Berlin and Venice -- but for most international audiences, their acquaintance with his work began with "Gomorrah," a crossover arthouse sensation that won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2008 (coming second to "The Class") and swept the European Film Awards later that year. (We were among its champions: the film cracked both Kris' and my Top 10 lists in 2008.) As such, he's not yet a name that inspires mass salivation among the Cannes-bound crowd, but he nonetheless has high expectations to meet.
The buzz: Moderate, at this stage, given the film's limited name appeal and the lack of detailed information about it -- plus the fact that it sounds like such a departure from his breakthrough film that his newer admirers have little idea what to expect. We'll have some idea ahead of Cannes, though: the film opens in Italy on May 4, so some critical reaction will have trickled out ahead of its Croisette premiere.
The odds: Paddy Power, perhaps taking note of how close Garrone came to the big prize last time round, have it in the upper tier of Palme hopefuls, with odds of 14-1. That Garrone's compatriot Nanni Moretti is jury president may factor into that too, though there's little evidence to suggest that'' make a difference. (Overseeing on his home turf at Venice in 2001, Moretti handed top honors to "Monsoon Wedding.") I'm inclined to be guarded: Italian social satires can often play very inside baseball, given the country's arcane politics, and unless it taps into a universal sense of media ennui, the subject matter here doesn't have the immediacy of "Gomorrah."
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