A blush creeps over Pinocchio’s carved wooden cheeks. His hands are clumsy and slightly too big for his body, but his delicately chiselled ears are disarmingly lifelike. In Matteo Garrone’s mesmerisingly creepy live-action reimagining, the misbehaving puppet is portrayed by child actor Federico Ielapi and aided by prosthetics expert Mark Coulier (Harry Potter, The Iron Lady). Their Pinocchio is an uncanny creature who nevertheless radiates humanity. The film is a PG, but children and adults alike might find themselves disturbed or else drawn in by the violence he endures (burning, kidnapping, hanging, drowning). “In this country, the innocent go to prison!” rules a gorilla judge when Pinocchio attempts to report two thieves who robbed him. None too subtly, the film suggests that to earn one’s humanity – in other words, to become a real boy – is a near impossible task in such an arbitrarily cruel world.
The source material is a neat fit for the Italian film-maker, who traversed similarly episodic fairytale terrain with 2015’s Tale of Tales. It’s also a critique of society that feels timeless or, rather, timely – and not just for Garrone. Two more Pinocchio films are in development – Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Netflix animation is due next year, followed by a live-action Disney remake by Robert Zemeckis.
• Pinocchio is out in cinemas and on multiple platforms