Saturday, April 07, 2007

Luigi Comencini Has Died

Luigi Comencini has died, aged 90, after a long illness.

All I can remember now of Luigi Comencini's television Pinocchio appear like fragments of a shattered mirror. Tiny, brief flashes, but so rich and vivid. And I remember what it meant to me at the time. I remember how it made me feel.

The adaptation was set in what seemed to be a very real world, a history that I could believe in so much more than most in the other TV and films I so adored. Despite the strange magic at the heart of the story, this really seemed to be happening to real people - indeed, to a real boy. And the abuse of poor Pinocchio was so painful. Much more immediately so than in Disney's cartoon version.

I don't know if I saw the edited feature-length version on the full five-episode series. I do know that I never saw it again. I do know that I really, desperately want to.

Later in life, I saw more of Comencini's work. Bread, Love and Dreams and Husbands in the City were presented to me as films I really needed to pay attention to, to catch up on. And I loved them - but I didn't know then that they were made by the master that affected me so much ten or fifteen years earlier with Pinocchio. When I did find out, it triggered a release (or perhaps just an invention - if I'm being honest I really don't know) of brighter, clearer memories of the Pinocchio film. The film started to fit in my mind with the Comencini I was now pursuing and borrowing on VHS.

The major difference? It was more convincing. And perhaps that's why fantasy films have proven so persuasive to me, over the years - their direct, dream-like images, their raw compulsions pushed upon me in archetypes I can't shake. Social messages had lingered and were being wafted up from my Pinocchio memories by every new Comencini film I saw. When I was too young to even comprehend an argument for socialist politics, I was able to feel for the wooden boy. I was feeling his pain and seeing his cruel plight and I was making my own mind up. I wasn't being delivered a lesson, but I was party to a heartbreaking plea.

I think Pinocchio somehow stands alongside Lancelot du Lac, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and The Singing Ringing Tree as one of the amazing, early experiences I had with 'fantasy' film that forever informed me.

Thank you, Luigi Comencini.

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