Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Romance
Directed by: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones
Disney’s back catalogue of celebrated fairytale animations are neutered versions of their source material, with their edges sanded down for a family friendly audience. Yet Giambattisa Basile’s original stories are twisted, dark collections of fairy tales that feature the first iterations of such stories as Cinderella and Rapunzel. It’s not surprising the mouse house left out scenes like the ugly step sisters slicing off bits of their feet in order to fit into the glass slipper but the stories are so compelling, it’s disappointing it’s taken someone this long to create a truthful adaptation.
Matteao Garrone intertwines three stories through his film. The first centres on the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) who turns to dark magic in order to finally give birth but becomes twisted with jealousy when her son becomes close to a strange doppelganger. The second segment tells the tale of the King of Highills (Toby Jones) whose obsession with his pet flea leads to his daughter’s (Bebe Cave) engagement to an ogre. And, the final segment sees nymphomaniac King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) falling, unknowingly, in love with an old hag after hearing her sing. To give anymore of the plot away would be ruining the film’s patchwork narrative.Garrone has abandoned the verisimilitude of his previous films and wandered into the realm of fantasy, it’s a bold move that has handsomely paid off. The film’s lavish backdrop is a stunning collection of locations – the castles are particularly breathtaking – and impressive sets that rigorously construct a bewildering universe that is as intriguing as it is alluring. The director’s decision to opt for practical effects is a wise choice adding to a world that feels obviously fanciful yet somehow believable. The film is ladened with unforgettable visuals, Cassel glory holing an old hag’s finger and Hayek tucking into a sea monster’s heart are hard to forget. Garrone frames every scene like an ornate painting dripping in colour and texture, best displayed in the film’s opening act in which John C. Reilly adorns deep-sea diving armour to fight a sea monster, making for a beguiling opener.
While the individual stories do overlap, Tale of Tales is essentially a portmanteau that uses its structure to simultaneously juggle tone and genre without it ever feeling like it’s taking on too much. Each segment shifts between being a romance to horror to adventure with little effort, it even manages to include a surprising thread of comedy with Toby Jones’ comic timing on point as ever and his initial encounter with his flea is comic genius. Yet, with so much to deal with something had to give and in this case it’s the pacing. It is never made quite clear how long the film takes place over. People go missing, move in with ogres and get married, but for how long is never made clear, dampening their significance.Of the three stories, Cassel’s segment comes off the worst thanks to his pantomime-esque performance and a story that never truly comes to a satisfying conclusion, unlike the other two, yet it is still more interesting than say, Snow White and the Huntsman. Salma Hayek is on brilliant form as Queen of Longtrellis, while John C. Reilly feels lost in a miscast role as Hayek’s husband and King. Jones is as likeable as ever even when he is feeding steak to a dreadfully computer animated flea and his daughter, Bebe Cave, threatens to steal the show on multiple occasions.
There’s bits of Monty Python, Tim Burton and The Dark Crystal in there but it’s not surprising with source material that has played a key part in many literary and cinematic offerings since it’s creation. Tale of Tales is haunting, funny and grotesque, offering up an honest retelling of Basile’s tales while also supplying visuals that feel like they were ripped from the source material. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it will please the palate of anyone willing to give it a go.