Film review: Pinocchio

PUBLISHED: 10:16 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:16 06 August 2020

Pinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone.

Pinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone.


Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of Pinocchio is a tale darker than Disney’s famous take.

Pinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone. Picture: Regine de Lazzaris aka GretaPinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone. Picture: Regine de Lazzaris aka Greta

Of course, Stanley Johnson, the Great British Public couldn’t spell Pinocchio if they tried: it’s a foreign proper noun. It Dizney matter it’s famous, as a point of principle, no true patriot has any business knowing that it’s one “n” and two “c”s. So universal is its influence that it is easy to forget its origin, but this new live-action version is very, very Italian. Even the dubbed English version is proper pasta-pizza, mamma-mia, tutti-frutti Italian (Where possible, it is performed by the original cast.)

Director Garrone wants to become the Angela Carter of cinema: he is a man who always sees the dark side of a fairy tale. In 2012’s Tale of Tales, he mixed three traditional Italian 17th-century folk tales into a creepy and twisted compendium and his Pinocchio is dark, a tale mired in poverty and desperation. The sun occasionally breaks through but the colour scheme is overcast throughout. He loves big artificial sets and costumes in the style of Fellini, but there’s a Ken Loach Jiminy Cricket perched on his shoulder warning against it becoming too much fun, or forgetting its social responsibilities.

Which means that this is a really beautiful and meticulous piece of filmmaking that may be of little use to anyone. Tale of Tales was designed as an adult fairy tale; this is aimed at children but although it is frequently magical, it’s rarely much fun.

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Possibly the story doesn’t help a great deal. When Disney made the animation in the 1940s, Walt decree that they soften the title character to make him more likeable. This is a more faithful adaptation and here the wooden boy is an obnoxious brat. Poor Geppetto (Benigni) is so thrilled to have this child but it gives him nothing but misery. Granted, he was almost literally born yesterday, but he is so wilfully stupid that initially it’s hard to sympathise.

For Benigni this must be a great cathartic, facing-down-your-demons moment. After his Life Is Beautiful Oscar he made a live-action Pinocchio with himself in the title role and it bombed so badly it effectively ended his international career. It’s good to have him back. for review of the Criterion Collection blu-ray release of The Lady Eve and Antonioni’s first film Story of a Love Affair, from Cult Films.

4/5 stars

Pinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone. Picture: Regine de Lazzaris aka GretaPinocchio, directed by Matteo Garrone. Picture: Regine de Lazzaris aka Greta

Directed by Matteo Garrone.

Starring Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo, Massino Ceccherini and Marine Vecht. In cinemas. In Italian with subtiles, or dubbed. 125 mins.

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