Tickets for Tenet went on sale today in the UK; that’s a welcome development, but until Christopher Nolan’s regularly delayed train turns up at the station, cinemas worldwide having to have our own fun without the cavalry arriving in the form of American imports. Last year’s box-office champions Disney have meekly surrendered, releasing Mulan directly to streaming; it’s a move likely to permanently weaken their on-going lock on family film and create rare opportunities for local alternatives to fill the void.
As director of the popular crime epic Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone might seem like a strange choice here, but his Tale of Tales indicated potential for a fresh take on the classic Italian folk story. Garrone has taken an old-school style to the puppet-who-wants-to-be-a-boy tale, filming in Italian, skipping the slatherings of CGI that might be expected, and coming up with an innovative film that’s genuinely surprising to watch. This wooden-topped Pinocchio (Federica Ielapi) looks like something from a Jan Svankmajer animation, and the story retains sharp edges in a un-Disney-fied way; at one point, the poor boy is hung from a tree. Otherwise, there’s whales, con-men, circuses, Blue Fairies and the expected characters, but none of them look or sound like their familiar counterparts; the life-sized talking cricket gave me the fear. The story has been rebooted, or rather, returned to the original source, Carlo Coloddi’s 1883 book, and despite initial reservations, it makes for an intoxicating, charming adventure.
Italy was somewhat ahead of the curve in having this Pinocchio as their number one movie last Christmas; like France, they pride themselves in flaying the flag for home grown product versus US imports. But in hard-scrabble 2020, America’s Avengers won’t be coming to save the world again; Garrone’s warm and original version should appeal to adults and children alike.
What may be confusing for some here is the presence of Roberto Benigni, who plays Geppetto; after winning Oscars for Life is Beautiful, Benigni made his own sentimental version of this story in 2002, but his role here is little more than an extended cameo. Times change, but a great story endures; Garrone deserves a slap on the back and a big gold watch for exhuming material presumed buried in inert Disney branding. Pinocchio may not be a real boy, but this is a real film, glowingly shot on Tuscan locations and offering a traditional, literate folk-tale feel with no strings attached.
Pinocchio hits UK cinemas from August 14th 2020.
Thanks to Vertigo for early access to this title.