Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Musical Gothic Animation

Availability: Netflix, in English

Storyline: Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film is a reimagined and restaged interpretation of Carlo Collodi’s classic children’s fantasy novel, The  Adventures of Pinocchio. There have been many previous adaptations, but none quite so dark and metaphysical as this one. Mostly set in Italy during the time of Mussolini’s fascist regime, the story begins with Geppetto, an woodcarver, who is restoring a crucifixion in his local church. His son Carlo is with him and just as they are leaving, Carlo returns to the church to retrieve the prized pinecone that he has left behind. Shockingly, a stray bomb falls on the church killing Carlo. Geppetto is grief-stricken, and descends into years of drunkenness as he mourns the loss of his son. Then, in an angry and intoxicated state, he carelessly carves a marionette which becomes Pinocchio. Soon the rough hewn and petulant Pinocchio is noticed by the Podestà, a sinister officer in the fascist regime, who sees him as a free thinker, but not in a good way. He is then discovered by Count Volpe, a charlatan who tempts Pinocchio from Geppetto’s care and exploits him in his travelling circus.       

Film-craft: This is a spectacular production. Filmed in stop-motion, it is amazingly detailed and beautifully animated. This, and the minacious brilliance of del Toro’s interpretation, makes the film a bold and ambitious retelling of the Pinocchio story. Mostly more dark than delightful, I would have preferred more of a sting in the final scenes, which tend toward sentimentality, albeit with an existential flavour. On the other hand, it is a children’s fantasy story, so maybe that is too great an expectation. Classified as a musical, the songs could have been more experimental. 

Cast: The real stars of this production would have to be the team of animators who have worked to bring this truly exceptional production together. The film also has a sterling voice cast. David Bradley brings a warm and gentle presence to Geppetto’s character, and the young Gregory Mann is terrific playing the Italian equivalent of an enfant terrible with full-blown ADHD. Tilda Swinton brings her mellifluous voice to the wood sprite, and the decision to cast Cate Blanchett as Spazzatura, the shrieking wordless monkey, speaks volumes about the weirdness of the film overall. Regardless, Blanchett is impressive without having to say a word. 

Personal Comments: Like many other adaptations, del Toro’s Pinocchio engages with notions of  love and what it means to be human, but that is not the major focus. This interpretation is explicitly about death, loss and grief, the brutality of war, and the insidious influence of fascism. There are chilling scenes of children and young people being recruited into Mussolini’s fascist youth army as they are herded off to training camps. The Catholic Church is also satirised, with the local priest performing stiff-arm salutes in deference to the Podestà. And on top of all this, there are layers of fantasy, some grotesque, others mystical. There is awful lot going on in this film, and it’s probably  unsurprising that it loses coherence here and there. But if you liked Annette, and rich gothic with more than a touch of the bizarre, you may well like this one. On the other hand, if you are looking for something to watch with the kids this Christmas, this is probably not the one. Instead I suggest you try the Wallace and Gromit-styled Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas, which is also on Netflix. Now that’s thirty minutes of unfettered fun.

Three Pines

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Detective drama 

Availability: Prime TV

Storyline: Three Pines begins with a Christmas Eve protest outside a police station in Montreal. Yet another indigenous girl has gone missing and the protesters rile against the police and their lack of action. The protest shines a light on the disproportionate number of indigenous young women whose disappearances are inadequately investigated by police. This time seventeen-year-old Blue Two-River has gone missing, and her mother leads the protest. In the face of a hostile and violent response by some police, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache intervenes to de-escalate the situation, confronting his police colleagues and promising Blue Two-River’s mother that he will find her daughter. Perceived as interference by his boss, and as a punishment, Gamache is sent on a suspicious death assignment in Quebec’s rural Eastern Townships. As he and his team investigate the death, they uncover secrets in the tight-knit community that suggest a dark side to the quintessential Canadian village.    

Film-craft: Three Pines is a series of four mysteries, each of two episodes. Gamache’s enquiry into Blue Two-River’s disappearance runs across the eight episodes, providing layered depth to the  four-mystery series formula, which is otherwise based on the popular detective novels by Louise Penny. To date, only two episodes in the series are available for viewing, but in these the cinematography is beautiful and there are images of sheer brilliance, for example, the evocative and powerful recumbent snow figures outside the indigenous community centre. 

Cast: Alfred Molina is the perfect choice for the role of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. He brings just the right amount of gravitas to the role. He is supported by a cast of fine actors, in particular, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Rosif Sutherland as Gamache’s local officers, and Clare Coulter as the eccentric duck-carrying villager. Despite an excellent cast overall, there is a woodenness about the acting in the first two episodes that interferes with the flow. 

Personal Comments: The first Louise Penny mystery in the series has the feel of an Agatha Christie novel, with Gamache being Penny’s equivalent of Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Having read a couple of Penny’s novels, and having spent time in Quebec’s eastern townships, I was very keen to see how this production played out. While the first two episodes are entertaining enough, somehow they just miss out on reaching their full potential. That said, its multilayered indigenous theme, spectacular cinematography and fine cast may help it to settle into a series that is well worth the effort.

Fake or Fortune?

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ for the series overall

Categorisation: Documentary Whodunnit

Availability: YouTube (all episodes)

Storyline: Inspired by his 2009 book, Sleuth, art dealer and historian Philip Mould created the first series of Fake or Fortune? in 2011. Co-presented by journalist Fiona Bruce, and supported by art historian Bendor Grosvenor, the series investigates the provenance and attribution of art works brought to them by people who believe they may own a previously unknown or lost masterpiece. Using old fashioned detective work, forensic analysis and archival research, the series is produced and directed by a range of filmmakers and is now in its tenth season. For example, Season 5 Episode 3, produced and directed by Francis Welsh, brings a drawing of a Cambodian dancer into sharp focus. Purportedly made by the French artist Auguste Rodin, the episode takes us across the globe where hopes are raised and dashed in a quest to discover whether the sketch is a fake or a genuine work by Rodin. 

Film-craft: Through the use of archival resources, the series explores the lives of the artists, their works, and the people they engaged with. It also takes us into the modern world of international art, including the galleries and auction houses, the homes of art lovers and collectors, and the laboratories and institutions that minutely examine aspects of the works. These are fascinating journeys that illuminate human passion and the determination to discover the origins of an artwork, as well as exposing the power of institutions that so often determine the outcome of investigations. Each episode has its own suspenseful story, compelling intensity, and complexity of detective work as it progresses. We get to see magnificent art and the marvellous galleries that house them. In the Rodin episode, for example, we visit the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. 

Cast: This has been a hugely popular series for the BBC, largely due to the complementary contributions of Mould, Bruce and Grosvenor. All bring their unique skills, expertise and experience to this excellent production. While the trio essentially fronts the series, we also get to see other experts at work:  conservators,  scientists, art historians, and a range of professionals and art aficionados who each play a part in the discovery of truth.

Personal Comments: Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Benji Wilson said Fake or Fortune? is the art world’s equivalent to Line of Duty. And there is no doubt the series has all the intrigue, suspense and dynamism of a top detective drama. So if you like a good whodunnit, give this one a try. But be warned – it can be addictive.