8 months of pre-production, 28 weeks of filming, 8 weeks of post-production and finally Pinocchio. Roberto Benigni is the wooden puppet who is crafty, intelligent, cheeky, mischievous, a liar, a rascal, demanding, entertaining, cheerful, and sentimental and who eventually becomes free; this role is similar to his own character. The famous Italian director Federico Fellini was right in calling him Pinocchietto. Each year he said, Robertino, now lets do Pinocchio, the last time they saw each other Fellini said You do it!, as if he had left the film to Benigni in his will.
After a masterpiece like La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful), going behind the camera again is certainly not easy. Everyone expected Benigni to produce yet another film full of emotion, expression, beauty, tears and laughter, all of which did arrive, unfailingly, with this cinematic version of Carlo Collodis book.
Contrary to the Walt Disney version, the screenplay written by Benigni and Cerami is true to the original novel and takes us back to the mythical character created by a fellow Italian in 1880. Evocative as ever, the music by maestro Nicola Piovani (who won an Oscar for the soundtrack from La vita è bella) ranges from the melancholic accordion for the death of Lucignolo to the happy notes of the village fair band in The Land of Toys, sensitively conforming to different moments in the film. The film is dedicated to the late Danilo Donati who created the magnificent scenery. Pinocchios native Tuscan and Umbrian landscape is also wonderful; he leaps, runs and plays across its succession of hills, flat land and fields. Only this timeless place could be the correct setting for the mythical puppet.
Of all the characters, the Blue Fairy (Nicoletta Braschi) merits a particular mention; she seems to be reminiscent of the enigmatic role of the lady with blue hair from the fairy tale (some associate this with the Oedipus complex of Collodi). She is a sweet mother, master of life, faithful friend, Mother Nature and the Queen of metamorphosis. It is also worth mentioning Mastro Geppetto (Carlo Giuffrè) who is the archetype of a good parent - completely distant from the episodes of the dreadful parents we read about in the paper - he is always prepared to make sacrifices for his child and continues to love him despite his faults.
Benigni has basically made two of his own adaptations: the Blue Fairy and the detachment of Pinocchios shadow in the form of a puppet when he becomes a boy. The Blue Fairy represents the logos of a fairy and appears three times in the film: at the beginning and at the end, when she lights up the dark street where the magical carriage needs to pass and also when she wakes Pinocchio from the tree-trunk where he sleeps. The puppets soul already exists - all Gepetto did was free it from the wood - and Pinocchio already knows what school, work and entertainment are; eventually Gepetto runs to help the puppet, freeing him from the prison in the City of the Simple Simons. I believe the happiest and most original part of Benignis adaptation is when the shadow of the puppet, cast by Pinocchio as a boy, detaches itself and skips away.
The Adventures of Pinocchio has been too often seen as a simple fairytale, where the wooden puppet learns from his many mistakes (I can relate to this!) that telling the truth is the only way to find the straight and narrow path and eventually become a child like all the others. However, the tale does not end happily ever after like most, but instead, there is a final lie: I was so funny when I was a puppet and how happy I am to have become a well-behaved boy. In fact, the puppet Pinocchio is so very different from a human being: he is full of vitality, never gets tired, enjoys simple things, is free from cultural constraints and above all, is extremely good-hearted. However to enter society (by transforming himself into a child of flesh and blood) he has to pay the price of his entire freedom. It is this that Benigni does not accept: the puppet does not die; he doesnt remain a piece of wood with dangling arms and legs; instead his shadow detaches itself from the good boy and goes off in search of eternal happiness.
Despite excellent efforts by the actors, the directors great passion and an investment of 40 million euro (equivalent to a film like Titanic for our cinema), opinions differed and, as ever, the critics arrived. It is said that the film is too faithful to the original story and lacks present-day meaning, but like every myth, the character Pinocchio, is eternal and does not need to be contemporised. There were others who believed the film used too many special effects. The Tuscan artist responded to this in a more comical and surreal way than ever: the special effectsbut how can you do a film without them? For example, I didnt find a seventy metre long shark. I was willing to buy one, I was ready to go to the fish market here in Terni: Excuse me, do you have a fish, fresh, living, about 70 metres long, that knows how to act a little? Unfortunately much of the criticism against Benigni has nothing to do with his work: some are opposed to the distribution of the film being assigned to Medusa - owned by Silvio Berlusconi, as Benigni and Berlusconi havent always see eye to eye in the past. However, as this concerns politics, is it relevant enough to be mentioned? The only point that should be made is that the directors cuts affected the first version of the film. If truth be told, to get distribution in the States, Pinocchio had to comply with the restriction of a two hour duration. More than one hours worth of film was cut and some scenes were combined (for example, Pinocchio meets Lucignolo for the first time in prison, when he should have been alone). I think the film loses its sense of narration. Im sure there will be much more diverse and contradictory criticism of Pinocchio, as Benigni is one of those people you either love or hate please forgive me, but I love him.