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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) is one of the most internationally famous works of Italian literature. At its heart a morality tale on the importance of filial duty and the dangers of the wider world, it’s a very Italian story. Trust your family and beware of the Fox and the Cat; and almost everybody else.
The most famous are Walt Disney’s 1940 sanitised cartoon and Luigi Comencini’s television miniseries in 1972. Now comes Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, a beautiful and cleverly crafted piece which manages to be a faithful return to Collodi’s original tale and very much the director’s own take. Opening with a familiar scene, Geppetto, the humble wood carver, sits at his work table, chisel in hand.
However, rather than carving a puppet, he is chipping at a rind of cheese to free the last edible crumbs. Starvation and poverty is the background to Garrone’s vision and though Pinocchio might seem removed from the Naples of Gomorrah (2008) and Reality (2012) or the Roman suburb of Dogman (2018), Garrone’s take on the iconic children’s story is similarly grounded in a tough and unjust world.
The rest of the film largely comprises of a series of episodes in which the wooden boy is gulled, robbed, chased, turned into a donkey and at one point hung, relieved intermittently by the intercession of the Fairy with Turquoise Hair, played by Alida Baldari Calabria as a child and later by Marine Vacth once grown.
Garrone subtly shifts the moral weight of Collodi’s tale. Yes, Pinocchio is a naive and careless child, but the world is a hostile bestiary.
Not only are there villains like the Cat and the Fox who rob and attempt to murder the child, but the gorilla judge frees the guilty and imprisons the innocent and the teacher beats his students. In such an arbitrary and cruel world, loving and looking after each other is not only a moral truism, but a survival strategy..