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Sunday, 13 October, 2002, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Benigni pulls the strings
Roberto Benigni in Pinocchio
Benigni directs the film and stars as Pinocchio
David Willey

Carlo Lorenzini, Tuscan journalist turned theatrical censor, published his Italian children's classic 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' in 1883.

It came nearly two decades after the Reverend Charles Dodgson, Oxford mathematician, had written his Victorian children's bestseller Alice In Wonderland.

Both men wrote under pen names. Both tapped into tales that have been analysed ad nauseam by serious Freudian psychologists and given birth to a huge body of literary criticism.

Both have spawned numerous films, adaptations, and now - for Pinocchio - at least two new stage musicals.

The appealing story of the wooden marionette boy who comes to life, and whose nose grows longer whenever he tells a lie, has captivated many generations of Italians.

Bonanza

The arrival on the screen of Roberto Benigni's version of the tale is bound to delight kids all over the world this Christmas.

The film has opened simultaneously in more than 900 Italian cinemas. The dubbed English version will not arrive in cinemas in Britain and the USA until Christmas 2002.

Pinocchio is the costliest Italian film ever made.

It had a budget of $40m and has been launched with a huge merchandising campaign of Pinocchio dolls, T-shirts, toys, noses, conical hats, posters and other perishable souvenirs which retailers hope will result in a Hollywood style commercial bonanza.

Roberto Benigni not only plays Pinocchio and directs, but his wife Nicoletta Braschi co-produces and plays the leading female role of the Blue Fairy.
Nicoletta Braschi in Pinocchio
Nicoletta Braschi stars as the Blue Fairy

Benigni is without doubt Italy's most talented comic.

His nervous energy, gawky gait, staccato speech, and empathy with children makes him a natural choice for the naughty boy who wants to be good.

Marionettes

But he is taken for a ride by the unscrupulous Cat and Fox, almost eaten up by an evil giant, swallowed up in the belly of a whale, before eventually escaping from his wooden shell to become a real person.

Italian critics gave the film a mixed reception. One admitted he had fallen asleep during part of the 1 hour 52 minute film. But others found it a charming and even irresistible entertainment.

Unlike Walt Disney's classic cartoon version of 1943, the special effects are minimised.

Benigni's interpretation of Pinocchio's magic has one real scene of marionettes, but his puppet is more flesh-and-blood than wood.

One of Italy's most distinguished sociologists, Professor Franco Ferrarotti, of Rome University, believes the character was reflective of national Italian traits.

He says: "Italy had just been united. Pinocchio came at the right time. The book captured the comic side of Italian life which is always coupled with tragedy.

"Far from being just a simple portrait of a schoolboy, it's a metaphor of Italian life, organised around lying as a fine art.

Life savings

"If we Italians had to apply the criteria of the simple minded Anglo-Saxon mentality like the Americans who wanted to dismiss their President because he told a lie, our ruling classes would disappear in a matter of days!"
Pinocchio
The film has had a mixed reception in Italy

There was no Hollywood-style first night in Rome. Benigni's family and friends watched the film approvingly at home, for he is a native Tuscan, just like Pinocchio's author.

But there was a special showing for President Ciampi who pronounced himself more than satisfied.

Benigni has been waiting to make this film for more than 20 years and has invested his life savings in it keeping tight control over distribution.

His only regret, he says, was that he never made Pinocchio with the late Italian film maestro Federico Fellini, his close friend, under whose direction he once planned to shoot it.

See also:

11 May 01 | Media reports
15 Mar 01 | Entertainment
25 Mar 99 | Entertainment
22 Mar 99 | The Oscars 1999
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