Director: Matteo Garrone
Writers: Matteo Garrone and Massimo Ceccerini
Starring: Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo
Genre: Drama / Fantasy
After a puppet theatre visits his town, a poor Italian carpenter named Geppetto (Benigni) decides to build a wooden puppet who he names Pinocchio (Ielapi). Pinocchio magically comes to life, and Geppetto decides to take him as his son. However, with ambitions to eventually become a real boy, the initially disobedient Pinocchio learns the hard way of what it takes to earn that right – we all know the story…
As with most of the usual classic fairy tales, many of us may know it because of the Disney adaptation, and though it gets the cinematic treatment every ten years or so, outside of Italy I think it is fair to say that this is certainly the case for Pinocchio – the Disney version actually being my second favourite Disney classic! While the Disney version certainly had more than a few differences to the original story, this apparent life-long passion project for Italian auteur Matteo Garrone tries to be more faithful to the original, and Garrone’s obvious passion for the story is certainly evident in every shot – even if the overall narrative does occasionally feel disjointed and sometimes rushed, despite its 125 minute running time.
Garrone has already proved that he is able to bring the visual splendour of dark fairy tales (in reality most fairy tales are actually rather dark – ignoring any kind of Disney version) to the screen with his excellent Tale of Tales. However, while that was a collection of particularly dark stories in a film that was very much aimed at an adult audience, Pinocchio has a PG rating and is aimed for audiences of all ages. That said, it is still an often suitably grotesque and visually dark film, and should be respected for it, as should any film that incorporates children as part of its target audience but treats them with a respect that enables it to incorporate more mature and darker (but appropriate) themes and visuals within its narrative.
Pinocchio is very much told as a fairy tale and makes no apologies for its narrative contrivances or inconsistencies, as most characters are intentionally humans dressed up as animals, other puppets have strings but seem to be very much alive or a tuna fish is able to hold a conversation – and that is often the point. The film is a visual feast for the eyes, and some of these visuals would certainly feel more akin to a horror film, but as with all things it is all about context, and Garrone skilfully makes sure that the sometimes grotesque visuals are never just there for the sake of it, but only used to bring the story to life and utilise the tools a film director has at their disposal. Pinocchio’s decisions are often based around naivety, and his story does of course serve as a cautionary tale that applies (to a certain extent) to all of us trying to navigate the real world and its many hurdles that consist of good and bad people, and scenes of our protagonist being hung from the neck on a tree or painfully turning into a donkey may on the surface seem particularly out of place in a child’s film, but they are very much appropriate within the context of this narrative.
The performances from the entire cast are superb; Roberto Benigni is excellent is the often haphazard and excitable, but also endearing Geppetto, while through the looks in his eyes Federico Ielapi captures the extreme naivety of Pinocchio. Another standout is Massimo Ceccherini as ‘The Fox’ who portrays a suitable level of pantomime sleaze that would be expected form a boo-hiss villain. Pinocchio is also a visually stunning film, from the set design, to the cinematography, to the musical score – it all adds up to the immersive nature of the film, and for those of us willing to forgive its narrative contrivances and embrace it with a child-like sense of wonder and imagination will be amply rewarded.
As the story develops there are certainly plenty of contrivances, and the protagonist is predictably quite infuriating at times, but Garrone skilfully balances the dark visuals, pantomime-esque performances and costumes, and the cautionary morality tale of the narrative to produce a visually stunning and deeply cinematic fairy-tale that will not only engage but also tug at the heartstrings of viewers of all ages.
A grotesque visual pantomime for all of the senses; Matteo Garrone’s portrayal of the classic Italian fairy tale is not afraid to go to some very dark places as well as enjoy some serious narrative contrivances, but though it may certainly not be perfect, under Garrone’s skilful eye this latest cinematic version of Pinocchio contains something for audiences of all ages.
At time of writing Pinocchio is out in UK cinemas.