CANNES 2012 DIARY: The Best Actor You Won’t Meet in Cannes

Posted by Eugene Hernandez on 5.18.2012

Aniello Arena (left) in a scene from Matteo Garrone's new film, Reality

Has this ever happened in Cannes? The lead actor of a terrific new competition film won't be walking the red carpet at his own premiere tonight because he's forbidden from attending the festival.

He's in prison for murder.

Aniello Arena, star of Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone's Reality—which debuted for press this morning ahead of tonight's Cannes gala premiere—was released from jail daily to work on the film in Italy, but authorities wouldn't let him travel to France for the festival. In Reality, Arena plays Luciano, a Naples fishmonger who imagines an escape from his own life as a star of the Italian reality TV show Grande Fratello (Big Brother).

The striking performance by this emerging Italian actor created an odd situation here in Cannes as attendees celebrated the significant achievement of a man still serving time time for a dramatic crime.

In jail for nearly twenty years, Arena started acting more than 10 years ago as part of the prison's Fortezza Theater Company. When we meet Luciano, at the fantastical wedding ceremony that opens Reality, he's performing in drag. Luciano's family eventually convinces him to try out for the TV series and he takes a leap that sends him down a road from which he can't escape. His dream alters his perception of his own reality and he makes dramatic changes in his life in order to adjust.

Like the actor himself, Aniello Arena's character discovers a different world.

"The world he discovers can be read in his eyes," Garrone reflected today, contemplating Arena's debut film role in Reality. "This was fundamental for the character in the film. [He's] a sort of modern day Pinocchio."

Powerful and poignant, with Arena's major performance at the heart of the film, Garrone's Reality shares a Naples setting with his exceptional previous film, Gomorrah, a top award winner here in Cannes four years ago. The director says this new film is a fable. An illusion.

Garrone feels that his works can inhabit a space between dreams and reality.

"It would appear that my approach is really reality, but I don't think I have ever been a very realistic director," Garrone explained today. "Maybe it looks that way. I talk about reality and then I transfigure it and I add another dimension and it becomes a fable.

Matteo Garrone in Cannes today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

With today's screenings of Matteo Garrone's Reality, five films in the Cannes Film Festival's 22 film competition have screened here in France. Each night during the event, the festival hosts two gala competition showings that anchor the event.  For those following at home, here' s a roadmap for the week counting down to the closing night next weekend.

The Cannes competition schedule:
Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson

Rust and Bone (De Rouille et D'os), directed by Jacques Audiard
After the Battle (Baad El Mawkkeaa), directed by Yousry Nasrallah

Reality, directed by Matteo Garrone
Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), directed by Ulrich Seidl

Lawless, directed by John Hillcoat
Beyond The Hills (Dupa Bealuri), directed by Christian Mungiu

Love (Amour), directed by Michael Haneke
The Hunt (Jagten), directed by Thomas Vinterberg

You Aint' Seen Nothing Yet! (Vous N'Avez Encore Rien Vu), directed by Alain Resnais
Like Someone In Love, directed by Abbas Kiarostami
In Another Country (Da-Reun Na-Ra-E-Suh), directed by Hong Sangsoo

Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik
The Angels' Share, directed by Ken Loach

On The Road, directed by Walter Salles
Holy Motors, directed by Leos Carax

The Paperboy, directed by Lee Daniels
Post Tenebras Lux, directed by Carlos Reygadas

Cosmopolis, directed by David Cronenberg
In The Fog (V Tumane), directed by Sergei Loznitsa

Mud, directed by Jeff Nichols
The Taste of Money (Do-Nui Mat), directed by Im Sang-Soo

Therese Desqueyroux, directed by Claude Miller (closing night, out of competition)

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

Get the latest daily FilmLinc coverage from Cannes in our special section.

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