Roberto Benigni, Matteo Garrone Unveil New Live-Action ‘Pinocchio’ in Rome

Italian director Matteo Garrone unveiled his live-action version of “Pinocchio” in Rome on Thursday together with Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni, who plays Mastro Geppetto, and other key cast members ahead of the hotly anticipated film’s holiday release in Italy.

Garrone, known for dark arthouse titles such as “Gomorrah” and Cannes title “Dogman,” made it clear that his re-imagining of the Carlo Collodi classic about a puppet that comes to life marks his attempt to break into the mainstream.

“This is a different type of film [for me],” Garrone said. “I am very happy that I feel every frame is very much my own, but at the same time I wanted to make a film that could reach a wide audience.”

RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribution is releasing “Pinocchio” on Dec. 19 in Italy on an initial 600 screens.

Benigni’s turn as Mastro Geppetto comes after a long hiatus from the big screen. He last appeared in Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love,” in 2012, in a cameo role. In recent years, the beloved Italian showman has kept a low profile, though he’s been active with his stage adaptation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which toured in Italy and internationally.

After winning an Academy Award for best actor in 1999 for “Life Is Beautiful,” which he also directed, Benigni directed and played the lead role in his own live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio,” which flopped at the U.S. box office.

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On Thursday, he called Garrone’s “the best ‘Pinocchio’ I ever saw.” He noted that, as Mastro Geppetto, he is playing a father just as he did in the Holocaust-set “Life Is Beautiful,” except that “this time I’m playing one of the most famous fathers in the world, along with Joseph.”

Garrone said he remained faithful to Collodi’s original tale, and warmly thanked Oscar-winning British prosthetic makeup expert Mark Coulier (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Iron Lady”) for his work on the film. Coulier said one of the biggest challenges during the shoot was spending three hours each day “doing face-painting” on 8-year-old Federico Ielapi, who plays the lead.

RAI Cinema CEO Paolo Del Brocco told Variety that several major U.S. distributors are circling “Pinocchio,” which is being sold internationally by HanWay Films. The film may launch internationally from the Berlin Film Festival in an out-of-competition slot. HanWay has already sold several unspecified European territories.

The film is an international co-production between Italy and France, produced by Garrone’s Archimede Films, RAI Cinema and Jean Labadie’s Le Pacte, with Jeremy Thomas’ Recorded Picture Company.

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