Cert – PG, Run-time – 2 hours 4 minutes, Director – Matteo Garrone
A destitute carpenter (Roberto Benigni) carves himself a son from a log that he is presented with. Soon the puppet (Frederico Ielapi) comes to life and discovers the dangers of the outside world, often escaping the harsh characters within it, alone.
Back in 2002 Roberto Benigni, at the age of 49, took on the role of Pinocchio in his poorly received film, to say the least, of the same name. Giving the famous puppet a highly energetic and hyperactive personality. Now, almost two decades later, at the age of 66 he takes on the role of carpenter Gepetto, the father (and carver) of Pinocchio. Benigni’s Gepetto is a deeply subdued performance from the often exuberant actor – some may remember his walking over the chairs and bounds up the stairs on winning the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar for Life Is Beautiful in 1998. The character is a lost, isolated, lonely soul. Destitute and alone in a village where it seems as if everyone is struggling to get by. Unlike other takes on the character, the most commonly known of course being that from Disney’s twinkly animated version, this version doesn’t even have a cat or a fish for company. However, this all changes when he’s presented with a pine log that he soon crafts into a puppet, which, as many of us will be aware, comes to life and becomes the living puppet-boy Pinocchio (Frederico Ielapi).
This is certainly a different take to the story that viewers have become used to over the decades. There’s no wishing on stars, although there are still fairies and talking crickets – even if their presence isn’t as large as it is in other screen interpretations of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel. There’s a darkness and an occasionally sinister nature to a number of the scenes. Much of it heightened by the immersive look and design of the piece – particularly the cinematography and detailed hair and make-up work. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the titular puppet was brought to life by a fair deal of CGI, however Ielapi is transformed by the hair and make-up skills of Mark Coulier; the same man who transformed Tilda Swinton into 82 year old actor Lutz Ebersdorf in the 2018 remake of Suspiria. All elements combining to create a visually arresting piece.
However, while the film might have an interesting look and style when it comes to the plot things do gradually begin to feel somewhat episodic – an issue that a number of adaptations of Collodi’s work seem to suffer from. The story was initially published as a selection of short stories in 1882, and the novel itself is known as The Adventures Of Pinocchio, perhaps explaining why this feeling exists. Perhaps, this episodic feeling is part of the reason why in the second half of the piece things do gradually begin to loose steam, at just over 2 hours this might not be the longest of films but there is a lot going on here and with varying degrees of how long each point is dwelled upon.
Yet, there’s no denying that there is something engaging about the weird and twisted world in which the film takes place. One in which monkeys rule over dungeon-like courtrooms and the innocent are sent to jail. Pinocchio is quickly taught as he braves the world alone, after running away from his father and practically being abducted by the owner of a travelling puppet show, that people can be harsh and manipulative. The world is a cruel place. After stumbling into characters such as The Fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and The Cat (Rocco Papaleo) – two rather entertaining, if unsympathetic, con-men who are definitely there for some mildly successful comic relief, while still bringing in elements of drama – the central figure’s life begins to spiral further and further downwards as his eyes are opened to the threats of a sometimes corrupt world. Within the first 30 minutes the character has his legs burnt off, is kidnapped and threatened to be thrown onto a giant fire.
Obviously one of the key things that people remember, and often cite, about Pinocchio is the fact that when he lies his nose grows longer, and that element is present within this film, but it’s not exactly a prominent detail. The idea isn’t there for major comedic effect every few minutes, helping to create a more unique feel to this more traditional-leaning take on the tale, in terms of how it links to the original source material. There’s something there for both the kids and the adults, including a definite fear factor, safe to say that the donkey scene is potentially nightmare inducing for all generations, and that seems to be what this film is aiming for. A sombre, darker, twisted and more fantasy-based take on the tale. All of this happening within the realms of a PG rating, although definitely a high PG, further setting in the potentially more mature family viewpoint that this sometimes intriguingly strange take on the classic tale travels along.
While it might suffer from an episodic feel, which particularly impacts the second half of the film, there’s still plenty to like about this more strange, potentially scary, far from star-wishing spin on Pinocchio. The design and look of the piece is excellent and this seemingly unique interpretation is definitely engaging and enough due to the interest that it creates.