Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Garrone establishes very early on that Pinocchio's woodness means he doesn't feel pain - during an unfortunate fire incident - so even when our hero is in deep trouble, there's always the sense he is protected."

Matteo Garrone's version of Carlo Collodi’s late 19th century children's tale is a traditional retelling that blends its sweeter elements with the grotesque, in ways that are likely to please youngsters who enjoy the likes of Roald Dahl. This is an adventure but it also has the feel of a morality tale, a sort of Pilgrim's Progress for kids.

Here, the puppet who wants to become a boy (Federico Ielapi) is rendered in a way that is otherworldly - a bit magical, perhaps, but not frightening. He's a loving, if rather naughty, boy who kids won't find it hard to relate to. His rebellious streak is just wide enough for trouble but matched by an open-hearted approach to others. Meanwhile, the world he inhabits has a nostalgic glow - you can almost smell the sawdust in the early scenes when the poverty-stricken Gepetto (Roberto Begnini, a good sport in returning to this story after he directed one himself back in 2002) is carving him, with Garrone also taking time in the films opening scenes to establish Gepetto and his world before Pinocchio comes into it.

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Once the little boy is carved, the adventures he goes on are wide and varied - and random in a way that acts as a reminder this was originally published in serial form - but there's a similar vibe to Alice in Wonderland or The Box Of Delights, as the film has its own internal logic. This is a world where animals are played by people, adding to the slightly off-kilter mood - from a snail who leaves slippery trails that others slide into, making for some lovely slapstick moments to the bungling but slightly sinister Fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and Cat (Rocco Papaleo), who claim to be Pinocchio's friend but who are anything but.

There's only one moment where Pinocchio's nose grows - which kids raised on Disney or other versions of the story might find a little bit disappointing - but the film is so endlessly inventive that they're likely to quickly forget that. Garrone isn't scared to make things a bit scary in places. Some younger children might find the puppets Pinocchio befriends, for example, a bit too much or his morph into a donkey - a sort of child-friendly version of the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London - pretty frightening. But the director - who has never shied away from violence in films like Dogman and Gomorrah - balances things well. He establishes very early on that Pinocchio's woodness means he doesn't feel pain - during an unfortunate fire incident - so even when our hero is in deep trouble, there's always the sense he is protected, both by his own nature and by the fairy (Marine Vacth), who always seems to turn up at the right moments.

It may look long, at two hours, but there's so much happening there's little time to get bored. I watched the dubbed version for this review, which features some of the original cast, and which was paid for out of Garrone's own pocket before he even had a distributor. A smart choice, as it makes the film more accessible for youngsters who might struggle with the subtitles, although one or two of the translations use rather adult language that might need a bit of extra mum and dad explanation after the fact. It was a nice idea for him to retain Italian actors in the roles so that the film still has the cultural feel of being Italian and, even in English, remains a gentle introduction to foreign language films for children the way that the likes of Heidi or The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe were for kids who grew up in the Eighties.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2020
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A faithful adaptation of the well-known story of Pinocchio, about a wooden boy who longs to be real.
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Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Matteo Garrone, Massimo Ceccherini, based on the book by Carlo Collodi

Starring: Roberto Benigni, Federico Ielapi, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth

Year: 2019

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: Italy, France, UK


BIFF 2020

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