Monday, February 13, 2023

Pinocchio nell'Era Fascista


Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is a 2022 animated musical fantasy, loosely based on Carlo Collodi's 1883 Italian classic Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Story of a Puppet), reset in Mussolini's Fascist Italy sometime during the interwar period (perhaps at the time of the Ethiopian war). Translated into some 250 languages, Collodi's book long ago became a children's classic. If nothing else, everyone knows its lesson about lying! My generation learned the story (or at least a certain version of it) mainly from Walt Disney's 1940 animated musical, the second such Disney film (following Disney's first animated success Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

The familiar story involves Geppetto, an old Italian woodcarver, and his wooden puppet Pinocchio, who eventually, having learned to be good, becomes a real boy. Jiminy Cricket plays the role of Pinocchio's conscience to guide Pinocchio in matters of right and wrong through various encounters with temptations to wrongdoing.

De Toro's reimagining of Pinocchio politicizes the fantasy. Twenty years earlier, during World War I, Geppetto lost this beloved son Carlo in an Austrian aerial bombardment. Still mourning, Geppetto cuts down a special pine tree out of which he makes a wooden puppet, which (with the intervention of the spirit world) comes to life overnight. When Pinocchio follows Geppetto to Mass, he attracts attention from the village Podestà, who orders him to go to school. Temptation intervenes in the form of a traveling carnival, which separates Pinocchio from Geppetto and sets up the search motif, which eventually leads Geppetto to end up inside a giant fish. Meanwhile, having realized what he has gotten into and what kind of malevolent boss he is working for, Pinocchio mocks Mussolini, which ends his circus career and gets him inducted into the military by the Podestà, whose son Pinocchio befriends. (The Royal Italian army is, one supposes, del Toro's politicized alternative to having Pinocchio turn into a donkey!) 

After getting out of one predicament after another, Pinocchio finally reunites with Geppetto inside the giant fish and eventually sacrifices himself by detonating a naval mine inside the monster. At his encounter with Death, however, he demands to be sent back to life earlier than usual in order to save Geppetto - even at the cost of becoming mortal himself. Geppetto and the others are saved, but in the process Pinocchio appears to have been killed. However, the Cricket (here named Sebastian) having done his duty to steer Pinocchio in the direction of good, claims the promised fulfillment of his one wish and thus causes Pinocchio to be revived, after which they return to Geppetto's home to live out the old man's final years in apparent happiness.

It is a beautiful retelling of a beautiful story about life and death (the shortness of the former and the permanence of the latter), about love and loyalty, about family and friendship, and about the perennial moral challenge of learning to live a good life. It's not really so suitable for easily frightened children, but it is something everyone else should certainly see.

The role of the supernatural (specifically of what, for lack of a better term, I'm calling here "the spirit world") is an integral and especially fascinating element in this story and in de Toro's retelling - as is his intersection of that with the conventional Catholicism (accurately portrayed) of Italians of that time and place. I remain somewhat personally perplexed, however, by the politics of del Toro's rendering. What is the intended significance of setting the story in Fascist Italy? After all, how many movie watchers in the historically challenged rising generations even know about Fascist Italy, let alone recognize and understand all the historically specific Fascist-era allusions? I'm all for educating them about such matters, of course, but I fear our culture's increasing commitment to historical ignorance will remain well in place. Is Fascist Italy here just an analogy for any bad time and place (presumably past)? Or is it an analogy for all times and places (including our self-imagined more "enlightened" era)?

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