Tale of Tales is either very much your film or it isn’t in the slightest. Almost certainly destined for cult adoration, Matteo Garrone’s latest feature is a rare oddity: imaginative, arresting, baffling and, finally, brilliant.
Garrone’s audacious, stirring adult fantasy couldn’t be further removed from Gomorrah, the 2008 Neapolitan gangster epic that announced him to the world. Despite its seeming singularity, Tale of Tales wears a steady stream of influences on its sleeve, in turn bringing to mind The Princess Bride, the films of Walerian Borowczyk, and The City of Lost Children. Its primary cinematic ancestor, however — or spiritual companion, for modern audiences at least — would be Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Unafraid to lurk playfully in the shadow of Del Toro’s modern classic, Tale of Tales brings strangeness as well as darkness to the fairytale genre.
The portmanteau structure of the film — which consists of three distinct tales of obsessive desire — lends itself to some exquisite world-building where, in keeping with classic fairytale lore, you should be very careful what you wish for. Beside fiercely jealous queens and sex-crazed kings, the standout tale ‘The Flea’ follows a mad monarch who cares more for his oversized pet flea than he does for his poor daughter’s future. Not only does this tale boast the irrepressible Toby Jones on fine form as the deranged king, it includes a wonderful narrative arc for the hapless princess Violet, played by Bebe Cave in what should be held as a star-making performance.
Tale of Tales will be too odd for some, and too dark for others. Closer readings of the film will certainly find a biting satire commenting on the global political infrastructure, but on the surface this is a wildly imaginative, erotic, and at times nightmarish slice of adult high fantasy.
CAST: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Stacy Martin, Bebe Cave
DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone
WRITERS: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso (screenplay), Giambattista Basile (based on fairytales by)
SYNOPSIS: Based upon the 16th century fairytales of Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, Tale of Tales tells the tale of a deranged Queen’s obsessive desire for a child, a mad King’s obsessive desire for a maiden, and another mad King’s obsessive desire for a, erm… flea.