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“Pinocchio” at the Berlinale: On the wooden path

AOutside competition at the Berlinale, Matteo Garrone’s “Pinocchio”, which felt like the 100th film adaptation of one of the most powerful texts of modern Italy, was written shortly after unification in the second half of the 19th century. It is as if the Germans are filming the “Faust” again, with Jens Harzer in the title role and Samuel Finzi as Mephisto, or at least “Heidi” with Didi Hallervorden and Paula Beer.

I would like to report that this Pinocchio could also walk on its own two feet. But then I would have to lie, and it is well known that this is not without it. The truth is, the film comes to a standstill, taking the story told a thousand times and in all forms no further. In a word: This “Pinocchio” is on the wrong track.

The reason may be surprising: it is too realistic. Garrone, who filmed Roberto Saviano’s “Gomorrah” and most recently shot the much-respected “Dogman”, is doing too much right, so to speak: sensitively recreates rural Italy in the late 19th century, poverty, hunger, the craft of ordinary people.

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Art in this pragmatic world is also reduced to its craft aspect, in the form of the puppet players pinging the villages. Roberto Benigni plays the carpenter Gepetto, Pinocchio’s “father”, who carves the doll from a tree trunk that has already become raw. He plays it the way he prefers to do it, as a weak person with a good heart, as a tragic loser who then gets bad because he is so likeable.

For an ABC booklet so that Pinocchio can go to school, Gepetto sells vest and coat in the middle of winter. He was too warm anyway, he says. Nose check: everything okay. Selfless lies are acceptable in this extremely didactic universe. When the hot spur Pinocchio burns his feet, Gepetto builds new ones for him. When Pinocchio runs away because he likes the guest puppet theater so much, Gepetto runs after him to America. He is swallowed up by a whale on the way, but that’s another story from the fraying episode carpet of the underlying text by Carlo Collodi.

Longing for cellophane

Don’t worry, the film will tell you about an hour and a half later. Garrone plays Collodi’s score from the sheet, in strictly historical performance practice, which is finally possible as a real film, 80 years after Disney’s animation masterpiece, thanks to modern computer technology.

And this is also where the rabbit lies in the pepper: whether it is a digger of a rabbit, cat chauffeur or talking cricket – they are perfect mixes of man and machine, only the fairytale has been lost. The puppets have human eyes, they move as naturally as the wooden legs allow. But why are there still threads on them? There is no puppet player. Gigi Proietti as theater director Mangiafuoco does not move a finger, unless to rub his nose after sneezing. Everything runs smoothly by itself. The wood consists of data, computer worms mill zeros into ones.

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Alfred Bauer (center) at the Berlinale in 1959 with the Governing Mayor Willy Brandt (right) and Hans Vogt, one of the inventors of the sound film

Berlinale boss Alfred Bauer

That makes melancholy. One observes an alleged homage to an old handicraft, which in reality has completely turned away from it. In the many moments when this is particularly noticeable, one wishes for the Augsburg puppet box, a sea of ​​cellophane, as Fellini himself used in his real films, because he knew that lying was sometimes the greater truth.

So that there is no misunderstanding: This is not a conservative lament. You can’t be more conservative than the movie anyway. As I said, he doesn’t add the slightest bit to Collodi’s text, he just plays after him. And it just doesn’t do him justice. The enlightened didactics from the spirit of Freemasonry, which Pinocchio declares to be a coarse block that wants to be honed to be human through school and heart education, seems rather dusty 140 years later, you can still blow very hard. The doll that was once beautiful is suddenly boring kitsch.

To make matters worse, Garrone cheerfully ironed out the dark aspects of the material, perhaps because of the problems that arose during the filming. A child whose nose grows when it lies until the birds peck at it? That is hung up by fraudulent cutters until it dies and only a fairy wakes it up? Also kidnapped, transformed into a donkey and swallowed by a whale promises a lot of trauma potential. Not here. The bad and the happy moments, the joy of seeing you again, or the reward of being transformed into a human being, appear strangely flat, as if the tips were cut off, digitally compressed down like an MP3. Pinocchiophilia is different.

Pinocchio by Matteo Garrone Matteo Garrone ITA, FRA, GBR 2019, Berlinale Special © Piero Marsili The rights to use the stills apply exclusively to festival reporting. When publishing, the named rights holder must be mentioned as a photo credit. If there is no explicit information about a rights holder in the picture provided, no copyright may be stated. For use after March 25th, the rights must be obtained from the respective rights holder. When using photos in social networks, it must be ensured that the relevant material has been released by the rights holder for this purpose. The photos may not be passed on to third parties. Failure to comply with this requirement may result in access being blocked and accreditation withdrawn.

Director Matteo Garrone

Source: © Piero Marsili

As I said, it all purrs down nicely, the pictures are pretty, the costumes immaculate, the performances impressive. Alone, the dynamic isn’t right. The fairy (Marine Vacth) is too beautiful to eat the fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and Doctor Crow (Massimiliano Gallo) is too loud. Everything is bright and full of twelve. This fairy tale lacks the fairytale-like. In “The Fairy Tale of 2015” Garrone did just that, using enigmatic, never-explained symbolism and surrealism. A world opened with every door, only the hinges clatter here (which poor Gepetto is immediately prepared to repair).

That Pinocchio still lives on is shown by two projects, one by Disney, which could not resist the temptation to re-film its classic from 1940. And the other by Guillermo del Toro, who wants to turn the material into a stop-motion musical next year, framed by a fascist Italy, so to speak “Pans Labyrinth”, sung in Tuscany.


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