Foreign Lens: Pinocchio (2020)

Chike Coleman provides his foreign lens take on 2020's Pinocchio, starring Roberto Benigni.

The ‘Foreign Lens’ is a column meant to represent international films and directors with distinct voices, showcasing their part of the world.

Pinocchio is the rare movie that defies conventions of what the story’s adaptation is designed to accomplish.  This particular story of Pinocchio involves Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) getting a section of wood from Master Ciliegia (Paolo Graziosi).  Ciliegia gives it away for free because it moved on its own.  Geppetto then crafts the wood into Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi).  A few of the basic ideas from other versions of the story come into play, like Pinocchio skipping school to go to the puppet show and getting captured by Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti).  Of course,

Pinocchio has eventual encounters with the cat in the fox trying to swindle him out of the money he earned from the puppet master Mangiafuoco.  He does eventually go back to school and learn to be very studious and intelligent but is again learned away by the prospect of making money, which is where the cat (Rocco Papaleo) and the fox (Massimo Ceccherini) come in again, trying to beat up Pinocchio for his money.  The rest of the tale goes as you’d expect with the donkey boys coming into play and they’re being a giant sea monster that swallows Pinocchio and Geppetto, forcing them to have to escape.

This version of Pinocchio is the best version of the film that I’ve seen.  There is a humanity to the character that I have not seen in any of the previous adaptations. The character’s emotions are usually so stifled that it’s hard to root for Pinocchio to succeed.  The success of Pinocchio is heavily dependent on actor Federico Ielapi.  He does a phenomenal job of bringing the character’s curiosity to life while also showing how vulnerable someone new to the world can be.

Further credit goes to Roberto Benigni for making Geppetto a feeble man who just wants to teach his son how to be a good person.  My favorite scene in the entire movie involves the two characters of Geppetto and Pinocchio. In the scene, Pinocchio had his feet resting by the fire, and he burned off his feet.  Geppetto comes to his rescue without being too harsh on the young puppet and, after a bit of emotional manipulation from his son, craft him some new legs.  Moments like that are what makes the story such a touching one to sit through.

Another great success of Pinocchio is that they use practical effects instead of CGI for all of the different characters who are not human. Practical effects greatly enhanced the realism of who or what we are seeing on screen.  They draw the audience in more because they look more realistic than a computer-generated effect.  The makeup on these actors is nothing short of incredible.  Italy’s dirty section is almost another character in itself and adds to the realism we see on screen.

I feel like children can enjoy this version of Pinocchio because he makes decisions similar to what they would.  The difference between this and the Disney version from decades ago is that this version isn’t afraid to be scary and shows the full consequences of Pinocchio’s actions.  In the Disney version, the blue fairy will come and save the day at least four times throughout the film, and in this new Italian version, we barely see her more than twice.  Realistic touches like that make a difference.

The only major problem I had with the film is its pacing.  The film clocks in at 2 hours and drags between Pinocchio’s adventures.  Director Matteo Garrone didn’t transition the action well enough to not feel like the film dragged for stretches.  He did his best, though, and got amazing performances from his actors.

I love Pinocchio as a film, but it may prove challenging for younger viewers because of some scary elements. I still highly recommend this version of the classic Italian tale.

Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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