I didn’t grow up with Pinocchio. I had the Soviet knock-off, Buratino. I thought about him this week after seeing Matteo Garrone’s unsettling new Pinocchio movie. It reminded me of the illustrated children’s books I love. It was great to see a fairy tale with so little CGI. Pinocchio was a human boy in creepy wooden-looking makeup and prosthetics. All he had to do to become a “real” boy in the story is take off his disguise.
It was a good time to revisit the story of a boy whose nose grew from lying the same week we finally purged ourselves of one of the most prolific liars in human history. The newspapers ran out of Pinocchios daily tallying his untruths. I listened to the new administration’s press briefing in disbelief. I had forgotten that it used to be a way to convey information based in reality rather than a platform for spreading unfounded gossip and fomenting conflict.
I still have my childhood copy of Buratino. The binding is coming apart but as I flipped the pages bits of the Soviet version of the wooden boy’s story came back to me. There was something about a Golden Key, and the bad guy’s name was Karabas Barabas, and Buratino’s nose doesn’t grow, and he never becomes a real boy. The Soviet fairy tale was less moralizing, a lot less dark than the original. No Land of Toys where boys turn into donkeys for the future New Soviet Men and Women.
I looked up some of the earliest drawn versions of Collodi’s creation and was struck by how melancholy he looks. He was fashioned from a block of wood by an old man who needed a friend. That desire to slake loneliness is missing in the Soviet retelling. In both cases the story is one of striving to better oneself but the stakes feel a lot higher in the original.
I’d have to reread Buratino to see if the consequences of lying were as crucial a part of the point as they are in Pinocchio. It remains to be seen whether lying for a living will have any consequences for our former commander in chief either. If it does, he’ll always have a place to hide in Russia since that’s where so much of his gold is buried. But whether in Kamchatka or Palm Beach he’ll never ever become a real boy.