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  Pinocchio No Strings Attached
Year: 2019
Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo, Massimo Ceccherini, Marine Vacth, Gigi Proietti, Alida Baldari Calabria, Alessio Di Domenicantonio, Maria Pia Tomo, Davide Marotta, Paolo Graziosi, Massimiliano Gallo, Gianfranco Gallo, Teco Cellio
Genre: FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) is a hungry man. He has tried chipping what cheese he can nibble from what's left of a rind, but that doesn't satisfy him, so he decides to put his carpentry skills to good use and try to drum up business at the local tavern. However, the keeper is not interested in having non-existent problems with his chair, table and door fixed, and is about to send Geppetto packing when he takes pity on him and gives him a small bowl of soup. Later, the carpenter goes to see the woodcutter he usually buys his materials from, to find him baffled and disturbed: he is sure that log he was trying to chop moved of its own accord...

Did the world really need another Pinocchio adaptation? Italian director Matteo Garrone evidently believed it did, and as this was a tale close to the hearts of Italians, many of his countrymen were happy to go along to watch it at the cinema, yet the fact that fantasy film expert Guillermo Del Toro also had a version in the pipeline, and star Benigni had even directed and starred in a version himself (as the puppet!), meant author Carlo Collodi was not exactly wanting for creatives to remake his most celebrated stories. But Walt Disney cast a long shadow, not an Italian, though his cartoon had been one of his studio's masterpieces - and scary, too.

The idea that Pinocchio (here played by Federico Ielapi) should be scary did not begin with Disney, it was all there in the source text as Collodi took great delight in having horrible things happen to the boy puppet that Geppetto crafts from that log. He seemed to be keen to tell off his characters, and by extension his readers, and that moralistic tone, positively stern, was difficult to carry over to films when the audience would be families, specifically those wanting to entertain their kids. Did they really want to see something that would make their little darlings scared and prompt tears? Garrone did not attempt to get around this issue, indeed some described this as strictly for adults.

The business that would appear to be unsuitable for the younglings was all taken from Collodi's stories, so yes, Pinocchio is hanged by the neck to get him to give up his coins, and as in the Disney he goes to the Land of Toys where he is transformed into a donkey with the other boys, but there was a difference in seeing that in hand-drawn animation and seeing it in photorealistic special effects. Couple that with a visual style that was muted at best, eschewing bright colours and splashy visuals in favour of a more restrained palette and delivery, and you had a result that was oddly moody in the manner it played out, with any fun to be had from the fantastical invention of the plot somewhat lacking. It was as if Garrone was folding his arms off camera, muttering "You’re not here to enjoy yourself!"

Given he had made his name internationally with the tough crime drama Gomorrah, perhaps that should be no surprise, and the moralising of the page was never far away, but he had also directed Tale of Tales, an anthology of peculiar fables that had more in common, technique-wise, with this Pinocchio. Some of the cast were in prosthetic makeups, though the fox and the cat were more reliant on their facial hair, and the Blue Fairy (model Marine Vacth) simply had what resembled a blue rinse for her scenes, but the puppet itself both appeared too close to human to make its wish to be a real boy relatable, yet unreal in its wooden look too, and not in a particularly endearing fashion - it was blatant they were trying to avoid Disney character copyright. Episodic, strange but a cold experience, even Benigni's mugging bookending the piece was not enough to lift the downbeat mood, not so much for the kids, more for adults who like to read unexpurgated Grimm's fairy tales for their own amusement. Music by Dario Marianelli.

[On digital from December 7, and on DVD from December 14.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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