Matteo Garrone talks about his latest feature Reality which is screening today (Friday 18) in competition at Cannes.

“After Gomorrah I wanted a new challenge,” says Matteo Garrone about his competition entry Reality. The 2008 Cannes Grand Prix du Jury winner certainly gave himself one, choosing a comedy as well as a lead actor who is serving a 20-year jail sentence.

Reality follows a Neapolitan fishmonger who is pressured into trying out for Big Brother but in chasing his moment of fame begins to lose his grip on reality.

Garrone describes the film as a modern fairytale but also a bitter comedy.

“I was inspired by a true story but added to it with material I had already been working on,” he says. “However the storyline is only a metaphor for a wider issue. Big Brother is merely an El Dorado. In Visconti’s Bellissima from 1951 the cinema was the El Dorado. Today it is TV.”

In many ways Reality could be construed as a very Italian story: “Everyone knows how powerful the relationship is between TV and Italians. But this is a universal story”, reassures the director.

“This is a more difficult movie for me than Gomorrah,” he admits. “During the shoot I was constantly striving for that delicate balance between dream and reality. I was searching, even figuratively, for a fable-like quality, a sort of magic realism. I always thought of the lead character Luciano as a modern-day Pinocchio. He is naïve and innocent.”

As with Gomorrah, Garrone turned to a number of non-professional and theatre actors on his latest production. Lead actor Aniello Arena is both. However, in what must be one of the most unusual pieces of casting in film history, he is also serving a 20-year jail term.

“My father was a theatre critic,” explains Garrone. “Every summer we went to see a prison troupe called Compagnia della Fortezza. Arena was the leading actor. We wanted him for a role in Gomorrah but couldn’t because that story was too connected with his past. But I was able to cast him in Reality because it was such a different story. I chose him because of his face, background and talent. We were shooting in Naples but his prison is in Tuscany so we had to make arrangements for him to sleep in a local prison every night.”

Never one to make it easy for himself, Garrone jokes that his next film could be a sci-fi.