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Darker Pinocchio is truly enchanting

Compelling adaptation as director behind crime drama Gomorrah makes a children’s film for adults

13 August, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Roberto Benigni and Federico Ielapi in Pinocchio

PINOCCHIO
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Certificate: 12a
☆☆☆☆

THIS­ is a gloriously imagined film with a range of utterly outlandish characters. Dive into this new Italian rendering of the fable of Pinocchio, and you won’t be disappointed: its aesthetic sensibility is overwhelmingly powerful, and makes it a work of art as opposed to a well-hung-together narrative.

Director Matteo Garrone – who brought us the brilliant Naples crime drama Gomorrah, and has followed it up with a series of other intelligent hits – uses a licence granted to him by the simple fact the 1881 story of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is so well known.

He doesn’t need to offer much in the way of introduction or reasoning. But this weakness in plot merely murmurs in the background and lack of explanations as to why one scene follows another matters not – instead, Garrone takes us on a wild, wild adventure.

Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) is the down-at-heel woodworker who has to scavenge meals in return for small bits of DIY in his small Tuscan village.

One day, a travelling puppet theatre full of the most wondrous figures appears for a show – and inspires the lonely Geppetto to create one of his own.

He blags a piece of magic wood from neighbour Cherry (Paolo Graziosi), who is only too happy to see the back of a log he thinks is enchanted – and from this block is hewn a walking, talking little boy.

Off we trot on a story that features the cast we know from previous adaptations, such as a sage-like Cricket, the blue fairy (played by Alida Baldari Calabria and Marine Vacth), a gloriously kind house-keeping snail who provides slapstick comedy by leaving a trail of slippery slime everywhere (Maria Pia Timo), the evil pair Fox and Cat (Rocco Papaleo and Massimo Ceccherini), who look like something cooked up from the combined nightmares of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake.

Watching them feast is a scene of epic proportions, and their attempts to trick Pinocchio into handing over his gold coins is pure evil.

Adventure upon adventure upon adventure follows: we have the boys who are turned into donkeys (another pretty terrifying scene), we have adventures in the belly of a shark, and of course, we have a few fibs told by our hero, causing a growth in the conk.

Every character gurns and grunts their way through their lines, its Italian language giving it an even bigger sense of drama.

And the lead, Federico Ielapi, looks terrific and has a power in his eyes. His movement is charming, and his mischief and softness draws you in completely. When he is kidnapped and taken off by the savage, Fagin-like puppet-owning Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti), you can feel the darkness of the story consume you.

This is not the ideal film for young ’uns – it feels too dark. Instead, it is a children’s film for adults.

Our puppet’s character feels brilliantly naive, innocent, sweet – which is what Pinocchio, after all, stands for – and developing such a character makes his shallow experience of life his depth.

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