Pinocchio (2019) ****

August 7th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Fantasy Drama, Italy 122′

Matteo Garrone’s enchanting version of Carlo Callodi’s 1883 classic has appeal for adults and pre-teens with its endearing characters and sharp social commentary.

Best described as a bedtime cautionary tale in the dark style of the Grimm or Hoffman, Garrone’s latest has shades of his 2015 Tale of Tales in the extravagant costumes. But here animals pose as humans and vice versa, although clearly it’s not salacious, veering more into terrifying territory in warning of the disastrous consequences of childhood misbehaviour in an exaggerated way.

This Pinocchio stays faithful to the page, Roberto Benigni is the woodcutter Geppetto, who begs a trunk of wood from his friend and crafts a puppet to replace the son he never had. But Garrone keeps Benigni under control – his weird 2002 adaptation in which he also starred clearly came to mind – and he’s gone after the first couple of scenes, 8 year-old Federico Ielapi’s Pinocchio running away to seek his fortune armed with 5 gold coins, as a naive but disobedient wooden puppet child. But not before burning his feet by the fireside, in one of the film’s more sinister sequences.

The ancient fishing villages near Bari and the baked landscapes of Sienna provide the vivid backdrop to a story that is certainly compelling, and the Berlinale press audience looked on with a childish fascination and very few walk-outs.

Pinocchio and some of the other puppets have authentic looking wood-grained faces and eyes that are living behind them. A tiny talking cricket (Davide Marotta) is particularly cute and so is the money-like judge (Teco Celio) who sends Pinocchio down “because the innocent always go to jail, and the guilty go free”. This is the tenor of its social satire. In one delightful scene, Pinocchio’s nose grows out when he lies, serving as a branch for starlings to peck at.

Garrone and Massimo Ceccherini collaborate on the script that is essentially as series of adventures showcasing how Pinocchio refuses to do his homework, and keeps making mistakes, as all boys do, eventually turning into a donkey sold into a life of slavery. He is also almost eaten alive and falls prey to a pair of feline fraudsters (played by Ceccherini and Rocco Papaleo), desperate to get their paws on his money. Enter the famous “magic money tree.” well known to Jeremy Corbyn, although that particular fantasist doesn’t have a part in this fairy story. The Blue Fairy does, however, and she grows into a beautiful woman (Marine Vacth) who looks after Pinocchio, assisted by her snail-like housekeeper. And eventually the boy comes good, and his reward arrives in a moving and magical finale that drags its heels but finally delivers the classic happy ending. MT

OUT ON 14 August 2020 | premiered at BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 February – 1 March 2020

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