Stars: Federico lelapi, Roberto Benigni, Marine Vacth. Gigi Proietti, Massimo Ceccherini, Rocco Papaleo
Matteo Garrone’s live-action adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 much-loved book takes the tale back to its dark folksy roots. Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni is cash-strapped woodcutter Geppetto. Benigni whose own 2002 adaptation of the book with the then fiftysomething playing the title role was such a gaudy, poorly received misfire, it feels a surprise to see him returning to the material. It’s a pleasant one though with Benigni turning in a touchingly subdued performance. When we first encounter him Geppetto is desperately trying to drum up some work at the local alehouse. When he comes across a travelling show and spies their beautifully crafted puppets, he decides to try his own hand at making one, using, unbeknownst to him, a block of magic wood, donated by his spooked neighbour Cherry. The puppet boy, christened Pinocchio, comes to life and proud father Geppetto packs him off to school, selling his coat and vest in order to pay for the boy’s spelling book. Pinocchio sneaks away to be with his puppet brethren at the travelling show where he is kidnapped by the owner Mangiafuoco (Proietti). Pinocchio wins over the owner, however, who even gives him five gold coins to take home to Geppetto. A picaresque journey ensues with Pinocchio encountering a range of disparate characters; from con men, the oleaginous but sly Fox (Ceccherini) and sidekick Cat (Papaleo), to the kindly Blue Fairy (Vacth from ‘L'Amant Double’) who tells Pinocchio that if he’s good, he will become a real boy.
The bucolic Italian environs, beautifully rendered in golden and russet hues by cinemaphotographer Nicolaj Bruel, belie an, at times, harrowing study of what it is to be human, in which the naïve young protagonist is burned, hanged and pushed in a river to drown. The central drama is diminished slightly by father and son only spending mere minutes of screentime together before their separation, but a winningly unaffected performance from lelapi which never strains to elicit pathos, imbues the picture with a real emotional resonance.
The production design cleverly balances the fantastical with an almost grounded study of 19th Century rural Italy, while the make-up effects, with actors being transformed via prosthetics into a wondrous menagerie of animal-human hybrids are magical.
Pinocchio is out now.