Winning an Oscar can give a performer clout, leverage, and goodwill. This is the only explanation for how, some five years after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1997 performance in Life is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni was able to write and direct an adaptation of Pinocchio that holds a rare 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s because he also starred in the film… as Pinocchio… when he was 49 years old. And now in 2020, here’s another adaptation of Pinocchio, once again starring Benigni. The new version is also a nightmare, but for all the right reasons.
This is the sort of film for which the term “faithful adaptation” was coined. Although not specified, the story appears to take place in Italy in the late 19th century, around the time when Carlo Collodi’s original work was published. This time around, Benigni plays Gepetto, an impoverished carpenter, prone to visiting restaurants and finding faults with their fixtures in an effort to create paying jobs for himself. Enchanted by the arrival of a puppet theatre in his village, he decides to create his own puppet from a particularly insistent log. The puppet is Pinocchio (Federico lelapi), who immediately comes to life.
Director Matteo Garrone (Tale of Tales, Dogman) has opted to create his fantasy world using actors wearing elaborately ghoulish prosthetics (designed by Mark Coulier), and CGI is kept to a minimum. Making the characters so obviously concrete gives the film a delightfully spooky realness. It might well induce nightmares in younger viewers, particularly when children watch their feisty hero screaming that he doesn’t want to be burnt to death as he’s manhandled (or puppet-handled) towards the flames. lelapi turns in a mischievous performance as the puppet who wants to be a real boy – plucky and easily distracted while still being inherently likeable.
As it is a faithful adaptation, Benigni is absent for a considerable portion of the film as Pinocchio goes on his quest, and while versatility is not Benigni’s strength, he can be wonderful with the right material, as he is here. At 124 minutes, Pinocchio will perhaps be beyond the powers of concentration for younger children (especially if they’re going to be traumatised anyway), and it would benefit from having a few scenes trimmed. Oh, and children might not want to read the subtitles from Italian either.
Pinocchio does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Pinocchio here: