VOD film review: Pinocchio (2019)
James R | On 24, Apr 2021
Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Federico Ielapi
The idea of the Gomorrah director taking on Pinocchio is certainly a bizarre one to get your head around, but Matteo Garrone also helmed Tale of Tales back in 2015, a compendium of dark fairy tales that gives a taste of the sinister fantasy that also tickles his imagination. To put it simply: 1940s Disney, this ain’t.
Garrone goes back to the original 1883 novel by Carlo Collodi for his adaptation, and he places the emphasis firmly on Geppetto (Roberto Benigni), a lively and desperate figure on the cusp of poverty who begs to repair tables and chairs in the local inn to make ends meet. When he persuades his neighbour to give him a log so that he can make a puppet and earn a living that way, he is delighted when the puppet comes to life – Pinocchio is born, turning Geppetto into a loyal, caring father who finds purpose in trying to keep him safe and school him well in loving other people.
Pinocchio, though, is a wayward sort, playfully acting up, running away and shirking responsibility. And so we follow him through a tour of episodic encounters and escapades, from a talking cricket (Davide Marotta) who falls foul of a hammer and a kidnapping theatre troupe to being hung from a tree by robbers (Rocco Papaleo and Ceccherini) and put on trial by a gorilla judge (Teco Celio).
While these things occasionally threaten to drag over the film’s length runtime, what doesn’t ever wear off is the astonishing nature of the mesmerising world that Garrone crafts. His fable is live-action first and CGI second, and that magical realism grounds the whole story, emphasising the weirdness of the whole story.
Child actor Federico Ielapi plays Pinocchio with an exuberant, natural energy, but he’s clad in some jaw-dropping make-up by Mark Coulier (multiple Harry Potters and the man behind Lutz Ebersdorf in Suspiria), which turns his wooden face into a living, breathing thing of wonder, right down to his roughly carved ears. Every creature and figure we meet occupies a similar space, somewhere between picture-book marvel and grotesque nightmare, and that almost nightmarish tone makes for a fascinating watch.
If the onus in Disney’s less faithful adaptation of Collodi’s book is on the wooden figure to become a real boy by doing the right thing, Garrone and co-writer Massimo Ceccherini dwell on the near impossibility of being a good person in a world so full of nasty, selfish characters. It’s a lesson that Geppetto has to learn as much as Pinocchio, and brings an adult grit to the childlike amazement on offer – the Gomorrah director is more at home in this book’s pages than you might think.