Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5
Italy/France/United Kingdom, 2019. Archimede, Rai Cinema, Le Pacte, Recorded Picture Company, Leone Film Group, BPER Banca, Canal+, Ciné+, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Regione Lazio, Apulia Film Commission, Regione Toscana, Fonds Eurimages du Conseil de l’Europe, HanWay Films, Lazio Cinema International, Regione Puglia, Toscana Promozione. Screenplay by Matteo Garrone, Massimo Ceccherini, based on the novel by Carlo Collodi. Cinematography by Nicolai Brüel. Produced by Paolo Del Brocco, Matteo Garrone, Anne-Laure Labadie, Jean Labadie, Jeremy Thomas. Music by Dario Marianelli. Production Design by Dimitri Capuani. Costume Design by Massimo Cantini Parrini. Film Editing by Marco Spoletini.
Remakes of Carlo Collodi’s time-honoured fairy tale have been numerous, the first dates back to an Italian silent film from 1911, the most famous, of course, Walt Disney’s Oscar-winning animated feature from 1940. Every once in a while a director sets out to make the definitive adaptation that promises to hew closely to the original source material, which is much darker and more disturbing, we are told, than the sweet animated film that we all know so well, and when those directors are also Italian, the idea seems culturally appropriate as well as intriguing. First, Roberto Benigni jumped high and landed with a splat when his post-Life Is Beautiful project, which he directed and played the main character, met with deserved critical punishment (even if you factor in the Weinsteins demanding cuts and the painful sounds of the English-dubbed version, it’s hard to believe the film wasn’t a shallow mess anyway) and went nowhere near delivering on this “darker take” than what Disney had provided. Now, Benigni is back but only as an actor, this time playing Geppetto in an adaptation by Matteo Garrone, whose grim take on children’s lore in Tale Of Tales would promise the possibility of a truly haunting version of this beloved fable, in which children watching will be inspired to obey their parental authority thanks to all the trouble that the carefree (and careless) hero gets himself into by insisting on following his own curiosity instead of what he is told to do. Geppetto is a very poor carpenter in a rural village who has resorted to begging just to get a daily meal and has to ask even to be given wood to carve and possibly sell. Thankfully a neighbour has been freaked out by a log that appears to have magical powers, which he quickly offloads on Geppetto, who carves it into a puppet that, for some mystical reason, talks, breathes and walks despite being made of wood. So excited at the prospect of having a child to love, Geppetto immediately enrols Pinocchio (the name means “eye of pine”) in school, selling his coat to buy him his workbook and happily announcing the blessed event to the entire neighbourhood (the lengths to which Garrone goes to give Benigni reign to play his familiar verbal comedy become wearisome quickly). Our little hero, however, is drawn away from school and to a troupe of traveling players, selling his workbook for the entrance fee and then being abducted by the maestro Stromboli who is fascinated by the idea of a puppet without strings. From here it’s a picaresque adventure from one situation to the next, all of them involving the character being given good advice (often by the conscientious cricket who follows him) and then ignoring it and suffering the consequences. The question we as an audience have is, where are the horrors? In many ways this film won’t be a pleasing experience for kids, the grotesque images won’t appeal to all and it’s far too long and slow, but it amounts to little more than live-action versions of what you’ve already seen in the most innocuous versions of the story, but with rougher looking settings and characterizations. French actress Marine Vacth contributes some lovely, genuine moments as the Blue Fairy, the only time you feel any kind of memorable emotional exchanges occurring. The makeup effects on young actor Federico Ielapi are the film’s most impressive quality, there has never been a more convincing image of a living creature made of wood, but otherwise it’s a visually unpleasant and shallow film, far too drawn out and dissatisfying.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Makeup; Best Costume Design