Daily Archives: February 7, 2022

Dragged Under [The Unmaking of Roberto Begnini’s PINOCCHIO]

From the Chicago Reader (January 3, 2003). I was very touched when, over a dozen years later, in Lisbon, Nicoletta Braschi (who was performing Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days there), Begnini’s partner, thanked me for this piece. — J.R.

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The worst movie I saw all year was the dubbed and recut version of Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio, hastily released by Miramax on Christmas Day. Yet I could easily have placed Benigni’s subtitled original in my top 50, if not top 40.

The late-19th-century source novel, Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, is so quintessentially Italian that adaptations lose flavor and meaning if they don’t include that aspect. Walt Disney’s 1940 animated feature also failed to include the original’s sense of poverty, its cosmic vision of brutality, and many other disturbing elements, then heaped on the sentimentality; the studio got away with it because the film at least had a style and an occasionally disturbing vision of its own.

Benigni’s adaptation replicates more of the Disney sentimentality than I would have liked, but it returns to the Italian original, altering it mainly to fit Benigni’s irreverent and very Italian sense of comedy. (Federico Fellini had hoped to adapt the story with Benigni as the lead, and this film reflects some of Fellini’s broadness and comic-strip floridity.) Read more

About Schmidt

From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 2002). For the record, I regard Downsizing as Payne’s best film to date, even if it’s less perfectly shaped than Election, but representing as much of a leap from About Schmidt as that film was from Citizen Ruth. — J.R.

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I was so offended by the cynicism and class condescension of Citizen Ruth, Alexander Payne’s first feature, that I’ve remained suspicious of his work even as he’s emerged as a more skillful director in Election and this still more ambitious and accomplished film. It’s a very free adaptation of a Louis Begley novel, transposed from Manhattan to Payne’s native Nebraska, in which Jack Nicholson has been asked to put on some weight and finally act his age. The problem is he’s still Jack Nicholson, exuding his know-it-all charisma even when playing a clueless asshole and not nearly as inventive as he was in a much less showy part in The Pledge. The contrivance here by which he bares his soul — by mouthing letters to an African boy he’s helping to support from afar — is bogus and forced, and even the more observant moments in this odyssey of a bored and boring widower can’t entirely escape the jeering tone that remains Payne’s stock-in-trade. Read more

Some Call It Loving

James B. Harris’s second feature, which I discovered and saw several times in Cannes in 1973, continues to be a particular favorite among unclassifiable films, and it has finally become available digitally (and was even recently shown on TCM). My initial review of the film for Film Comment led to be getting invited to dinner once by Harris himself along with his French distributor, Pierre Rissient; this review appeared a couple of years later, in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound, after the film opened belatedly in London. Note: This film has also sometimes gone under the titles Sleeping Beauty and Dream Castle. — J.R. Read more