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Peter Malone MSC  |  16 November 2020

PINOCCHIO,  Italy, 2020. Starring Roberto Benigni. Directed by Matteo Garrone. 124 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and violence)

For older audiences and for younger audiences who watch television or DVDs, Pinocchio is the character from Disney’s 1940s celebrated animation film (with its key song, 'When you wish upon a star', playing behind the beginning of every Disney program and its logo). Pinocchio is the wooden puppet, created by the carpenter, Gepetto, who encounters all kinds of adventures as he wants to become a human boy, famous for his nose getting longer every time he tells a lie. And, there is his adviser, Jiminy Cricket.

Italian audiences may be well familiar with the Disney version but, in the early 2000s, there was a version with Roberto Benigni – which was not received well.

However, here is Roberto Benigni again, with a chance to show his comic talents as well as his capacity for pathos, playing the role of Gepetto. While that makes a lot of sense, it is a surprise, especially for serious film buffs and critics, that this version has been directed by Matteo Garrone, best known for his serious dramas and exposes of the Mafia, Gomorrah and, more recently, Dogman.

In many ways, this is a lavish production. It recreates an atmosphere of the 19th century, elaborate sets for a local village, homes, shops and a visiting circus of marionettes. It goes out into the countryside, explores a mansion, rounds up the lost boys and takes them to an island where they become donkeys, takes us to a farm, takes us into the sea. No question that a lot of detailed attention has been given to sets, costumes and décor.

What needs to be said is that it is very, very Italian in its style, emotions, and more emotions. While an Italian sensibility will respond well, it may well be too much for audiences which with more restrained sensibilities who may feel it goes over the top many times in its action, in its dialogue and humour.

The main ingredients of the traditional story are certainly present – though the cricket adviser is rather more serious; no Jiminy Cricket from Disney. There is the young Princess who befriends Pinocchio. There are the comic villains of the piece, Fox and Cat, con artists with smooth tongues and no moral values. The master of the marionette circus is sympathetic as is a farmer later in the film where Pinocchio works the waterwheel to earn his living. The man who rounds up the boys with the pretense that they will find a land where they can play forever but who turns them into donkeys and sells them in the market is a dastardly type.

And, there are strange creatures, the other marionettes who come to life, the dowager who is also a large snail, the friendly tuna trapped in the shark.

So, in this context, what is Gepetto like? His rather like Roberto Benigni, poor, trying to persuade the locals to hire him for wood repairs, entranced by the idea of creating a puppet, of becoming a father figure, searching for his lost puppet.

And, main question, what is Pinocchio himself like. As regards the visuals, his wooden face, his limbs (carelessly burning of his legs with his feet in the fire), his clothes, he is believable given the context. But, he is continually wilful, easily led, truant going to the circus, on his adventures, deceived by Fox and Cat, charmed by the Princess but still walking away, with the lost boys, discovering how to earn his living on the farm, wanting some coins to recompense Gepetto, finally realising that Gepetto is a father figure.

One hopes that a wide audience will enjoy this re-telling of the story – but, there is the reserve of wondering how the Italian sensibility will travel worldwide.

Madman Films
Released 19 November
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuit Media.


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