“People are sometimes afraid of things they don’t know.”
This is the second high-profile adaptation of Pinocchio in 2022 alone. Whilst Zemeckis continued Disney’s creatively barren attempts at live action remakes of its beloved animated features, Guillermo del Toro’s is a true retelling of the story in his own inimitable way. Within the framework of a family film, it feels as though del Toro has crafted a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth with shared themes of death and fascism. Pinocchio’s very creation is an act of grief — after Geppetto cuts down his dead son’s tree in a drunken fit of rage — and his early moments of life are reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, inspiring fear in both his creator and the villagers. Although the familiar story beats remain intact, del Toro’s sympathies have always lain with outsiders struggling to find their place in society, as everyone’s ideas for Pinocchio are exploitative — a father wishing to replace a lost son, Christoph Waltz’s wonderfully mercurial circus owner (“You may have no strings but I control you”) sensing profit, and the fascists who wish to turn him into an undying soldier. Stop motion is perhaps the perfect medium for Pinocchio since it turns all the characters into stringless puppets. There is a genuinely handcrafted feel to Pinocchio, roughly hewn with nails sticking out of his back, and the physical sets scale wonderfully with the puppetry. Although there is a slew of high profile actors, there is no stunt casting and only Ewan McGregor’s narration as Cricket was distractingly recognisable. The musical numbers are the film’s weakest aspect, interrupting the pacing and entirely forgettable. To explore what it means to be human, however, Pinocchio is a rich and satisfying adaptation.
“There is a particular sad beauty… well-known to the companionless foreigner as he walks the streets of his adopted preferably moonlit, city. In my case, Ennui, France.”
Whilst there has always been a literary chic aesthetic to Wes Anderson’s films, The French Dispatch is an ode to the art of long-form journalism — rather than being divided into chapters, this is really a collection of short films masquerading as articles. The fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally “boredom on apathy”) is fittingly named, and even the colour palette eschews the bold saturation one expects from Anderson; yet within this disaffected community, the writers seek out — and perhaps manifest — absurdly colourful tales. The quality is distinctly uneven, Anderson seeming to have little to say with the content of the stories so much as their loquacious delivery. The most creative is also the most entertaining, a food review that morphs into an unpredictable heist. Although that earns the film a strong closing, it cannot resolve the disconnected narrative of a vapidly kitsch tale of student protest or a bizarrely aggressive travelogue. Fans of Wes Anderson will find plenty of details to enjoy, together with the de rigueur stellar ensemble cast, but The French Dispatch does not rank amongst his strongest work.
“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Soirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.
“You want a child? A violent desire such as yours can only be satisfied with violence.”
Adult-orientated fantasy adapted from the stories of Italian poet Giambattista Basile, Tale of Tales serves as a reminder that there is nothing inherently infantile about fairy tales in their purest form. An unkindly reductive description might be Eurotrash fairy tales, between Vincent Cassel’s debaucherous king, the jealous motherly love of Salma Hayek’s queen and a clowning Toby Jones (who did, after all, attend the school of Jacques Lecoq in Paris). To the extent that there is a running thread between the various stories, it is that any desire for change in one’s circumstances is inherently violent and has a corresponding cost, whether it is borne by oneself or by others.
“A soldier will always choose death over humiliation.”
Commander Arun Filitt
After some interesting initial worldbuilding with hints of Avatar, this bloated space opera swiftly buckles due to its shallow story and disengaging lead characters. Although it all looks fantastic, and there are some exciting sequences, ultimately its running time is far too long to support a largely predictable story, and many scenes feel present purely to show off special effects. There might be a little more artistry than other generic effects-heavy blockbusters, but it is a far cry from Luc Besson’s past foray into space opera with The Fifth Element.
“When he looks at me, the way he looks at me. He does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am.”
What if Guillermo del Toro made a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film? There is a surprisingly whimsical tone as we are introduced to the life of mute Elisa and the idiosyncrasies of her few friends. This merges with del Toro’s signature eye for detail in fantasy creatures when she discovers the amphibian man imprisoned at the lab in which she works (it is a big year for the underappreciated Doug Jones between this role and Saru, the best character in Star Trek: Discovery). The bond between the two forms the core of the film, surrounded by a series of strong supporting performances. Drawing together disparate aspects of drama, fantasy, a heist, romance and espionage, this is a stunning, unusual piece of filmmaking that is more than the sum of its parts and lingers long afterward.