Aniello Arena, one of the stars of the Cannes competition entry "Reality," can't attend his film's Friday premiere because he's in prison, reportedly for murder.
Reports out of Cannes, both in Italian newspapers and in Forbes and Vanity Fair, say that Arena has been in prison for more than 20 years, serving a life sentence for murder. (VF cites reports that say it was a double murder.)
Speaking to the press following the film's first screening, director Matteo Garrone did not address the nature of Arena's crimes. But he did acknowledge that Arena is imprisoned, and that he was allowed to shoot the movie during the day as long as he returned to the prison each night.
Arena (on the right in the photo) was discovered by Garrone acting in the Fortezza Theater Company, a prison troupe that is based at the Volterra Detention Center but allowed to appear at festivals and theaters around Italy. According to Garrone, the director wanted to cast Arena in his 2008 film "Gomorrah," a gritty and acclaimed look at organized crime, but was denied by prison authorities.
In "Reality," Arena stars as a fishmonger who is obsessed with getting on the Italian version of the reality-television series "Big Brother."
Peter Bradshaw, critic for the Guardian, singled out Arena's performance in his review: "[T]here is a very winning central performance from newcomer Aniello Arena as Luciano, who has a sharp, calculating and very mobile, open face, which registers every jolt of fear, of hope, of triumph and dismay: the face of a would-be comedian who can do everything but make people laugh."