“The FBI documented the following event with an audio recorder. The dialogue for this film is taken entirely from the transcript of this recording.” From its introductory panel, Reality sets the tone for a fiction that will never escape the said reality that it wants to re-stage. This reality is that experienced by Reality, a young 25-year-old linguist working (more or less) for the NSA, whose life changed when the FBI came to search her house to question her.
In a few seconds, briefly using the sound of the real FBI recordings on the lips of the actors or integrating a few inserts of (fake) official documents to better set the context, Tina Satter manages to create a strange atmosphere. Nothing particularly innovative on paper, but the way in which the tension will arise from its tight device (simple exchanges, a quasi-camera, only three established characters…) is a small miracle of stripped down cinema.
A very normal discussion
First questioned by two FBI agents, Reality is quickly surrounded by a host of men. Without making her immobile, the frame crushes her little by little, the environment deprives her of her movements and panic gradually emerges. However, the situation remains abnormally calm, even innocent (smiles, jokes, talking about animals, races, yoga …), while the latent soundtrack regularly comes to assume that everything seems about to explode. This quasi-surrealist ambivalence, Tina Satter will skilfully stretch it, explore it and make it terribly anxiety-provoking.
By reconstructing the event in real time (or almost), Tina Satter then manages to fully captivate. Despite her lack of film experience (this is her first film), the director knows how to make the most of her minimalist device, not unlike the more experimental cinema of Steven Soderbergh (KIMI, Paranoia, Mosaic), scrutinizing the gestures, looks, breaths, hesitations… of her heroine. With an almost documentary devastating precision, the film thus plunges the spectators into the moods of Reality (notably thanks to the discreet strength of Sydney Sweeney, decidedly fascinating) to better swing into a powerfully evocative dramatic and political thriller.
Sydney Sweeney, the rare pearl
Behind this emotional whirlwind where the filmmaker invests the spirit of Reality through this (realistic) interrogation in a strange empty Lynchian room (surrealist), the tension rises, the noose tightens and the game of fools ends up revealing itself completely, taking the form of a losing battle for the young linguist. Because beyond the very solid exercise in style – despite some rather futile artifices such as the visual erasure of the characters during the redactions –, Above all, Tina Satter offers a terrifying sample of modern American reality.
With this claustrophobic thriller, the director not only reveals the ingenious and fallacious methods of the FBI, simulating ignorance to better explode the truth, feigning conviviality to accentuate their authority. But even more, without ever emphasizing the features too much and keeping a beautiful subtlety, she allows herself above all to describe the violent contradiction and voluntary ambiguity of American power.
Back to the wall and helpless
Reality is undeniably patriotic (she dreams of joining the Special Forces), ready to do anything to protect her country and defend its interests. His involvement is even praised by his nation, given his fine career at just 25 years old. However, paradoxically, by acting for the common good in order to overcome the mediocrity of certain acts, Reality went too far, offending an authority that nevertheless advocates its “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. By attacking the elites or a truth considered inadequate (here government and electoral concealment), its action of information, of veracity, is a betrayal.
Like the agents on Reality, power pretends to leave its people free of their movements-actions in order to better corset them, constrain them and dominate them (this cat on a leash, this dog in a cage). Tina Satter then delivers a ruthless demonstration of almighty power, corrupt and contradictory, reigning supreme over the reality that he deems necessary (or not) to reveal to the eyes of the world. And so, the film asks us an agonizing question: if telling the truth is considered a crime by his country and that fake news is spread by his own leader (the story dates from 2017 during the Trump presidency), how to do the difference between the real and the illusion, the just and the arbitrary? Chilling.