Photo | “Pinocchio” – Archimede
Many contemporary fantasies retell fairy tales in a bold new way, but the 2019 Italian film “Pinocchio” presents this 1883 Carlo Collodi fable in a way that is boldly old-fashioned. It hews to the ancient fairy tale rhythms and themes but, with its sumptuous production design and thoroughly unrealistic characters, is nothing short of absolutely freaky.
Roberto Benigni made his own version of this beloved Italian cultural touchstone in 2002 and cast himself as the wooden boy. Now, he lends his compelling visage to the much more age-appropriate character of Geppetto, the long-suffering father to the wooden scamp of the title. Poor and lonely, Geppetto sees a traveling puppet wagon roll into his town (more on that later) and is inspired to carve his own puppet from a magical log. Although his original goal was to earn money with his puppet, puppetry, of course, being one of the world’s oldest get-rich-quick schemes, he immediately bonds with the wood when he hears its heart beating, and fatherly love toward his creation overwhelms him.
From the original writing to the Disney cartoon, “Pinocchio” is a cautionary tale about childish misbehavior. If you thought the Disney cartoon was weird because it showed boys smoking cigars and turning into donkeys, well, it turns out that was the toned-down version. Just wait until the little wooden boy gets hung from a tree or pleads for the lives of his fellow puppets as their master threatens to toss them onto the fire for warmth.
The outline of the story is familiar: Our selfish wooden hero ignores his father’s sacrifices and the advice of a morally upright cricket and pursues fun and pleasure as soon as he has feet, and the whole story is about him running afoul of various people and creatures who exploit his naiveté. But oh, what incredible creatures they are.
The answer to, “Why on earth would anyone want to watch a movie of ‘Pinocchio’?” is that it is incredibly beautiful. No, you are probably not in suspense about whether he will learn his lesson, reunite with his father or become a real boy, but it is worth watching for the stunning visuals.
Pinocchio himself, played by Federico Ielapi, is an amazing-looking, wood-grained fellow, and the puppets he meets are even more incredible. He also encounters a snail lady who I will not soon forget. If you are a fan of the rich, detailed, almost grimy world of directors like Terry Gilliam (“Monty Python”), then the vision of Italian director Matteo Garrone is right up your alley.
Garrone has created these fabulous creatures and characters and set them in a dim, dusty setting of impoverished, rural Italy in the late 19th century. The effect is of an obscure, disturbing fresco, cracked and faded, come hauntingly to life. It depicts, to give just a few examples, a bunch of rabbit pallbearers trying to take Pinocchio to hell, a threatening simian judiciary sentencing the wooden boy for his crimes, and a raven doctor diagnosing him with “wooditis.” It’s all nonsensical, macabre and wonderful to see.
While the film is visually a hallucinogenic marvel, the script essentially consists of people saying “PIIIIN-OOO-CHIOOOO” over and over again. This is a weird, artistic experience, not a blockbuster movie. The whole film looks hand-painted, a tonic to the more dazzling special effects to which we are accustomed. It looks more like a historical documentary of an impossible time, where large snail women took care of blue-haired young girls in dilapidated houses with peeling paint. A simple fable from a bygone era, “Pinocchio” does not try to bring its story to our century. Rather, it transports us with a simple but timeless message, delivered by unforgettably strange and gorgeous make-believe creatures.
“Pinocchio” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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