Pinocchio (3 stars)

Pinocchio

Matteo Garrone's live-action take on the iconic children's tale is creepy but beautifully crafted

A live-action version of Pinocchio from Matteo Garrone, the director of mob drama Gomorrah, might seem unlikely, until you realise the plot features a hanging, kidnappings, and an attempted drowning, alongside various other criminal cons. Garrone has got form with fairytales too, having helmed 2015's marvellous Tale of Tales, which this is very like. Returning to the macabre origins of Carlo Collodi's story, this Italian production is no Disney-fication. Although it's been rated PG in the UK, if the subtitles don't put the kids off, then the content almost certainly will.

There's no getting away from the fact that the very notion of a non-animated Pinocchio is desperately creepy. The prosthetic make-up which transforms child actor Federico Ielapi into the wooden puppet is undoubtedly impressive, but he's a pretty haunting creation. In the role of Geppetto is a finely cast Roberto Benigni (bravely revisiting the material after playing Pinocchio himself in a self-directed and widely panned 2002 effort); in his garrulous awkwardness, Benigni makes a credibly desperate and over-eager carpenter, who's delighted rather than horrified when the puppet he begs and borrows to craft springs to life. 'I'm a father!' he announces to his incredulous neighbours.

Pinocchio is a disobedient little chap though and it's not long before he's lost to Geppetto and getting himself into all manner of trouble. Firstly, with a puppet circus – run by Gigi Proietti's fierce and hirsute Mangiafuoco, who's kinder than he looks. Then Fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and Cat (Rocco Papaleo) become Pinocchio's repeated foes (even if he believes them to be friends), while the Fairy (played first by Alida Baldari Calabria, then as an adult by Marine Vacth) gets him out of numerous scrapes, with the assistance of her human-snail housekeeper (Maria Pia Timo).

Garrone has a real gift for fantasy and his film is stunningly rendered – it's dilapidated yet dreamy and overflowing with eccentric, imaginative and disturbing details – while the lovely, lilting and chirruping score keeps the material the right side of macabre. Given its episodic structure, the sheer randomness of each interlude can occasionally make it feel maddening and meandering, not least as this Pinocchio can be a little sod, and, at a shade over two hours, perhaps it's also overlong. But it's witty and sometimes wonderfully strange and there are some spectacular treats: a turbo-charged bedtime story, a frog down the trousers of a brutish, squeaky-voiced teacher, a quartet of rabbit undertakers slipping and sliding in snail slime, and many more.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 14 Aug.

Pinocchio

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Italy, France, UK
  • 2h 5min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Matteo Garrone
  • Cast: Federico Ielapi, Roberto Benigni, Rocco Papaleo
  • UK release: 14 August 2020

The classic tale of the young wooden puppet who yearns to become a real boy gets the live action treatment in this Italian adaptation.

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