I love a lavish, beautifully-designed and visually-stunning film, I generally enjoy portmanteaus, and given that today’s the day the UK votes on whether it wishes to stay as a member of the European Union or leave I’ll happily celebrate any film that helps to highlight cross-border collaboration, at least as it applies within the film industry. Fairy tale compendium Tale Of Tales is a joint Italian/English production, it’s an English language film, it’s directed by an Italian, it’s based on stories by a 16th/17th Century Italian writer, it’s scored by a Frenchman and it includes a number of French, English, Scottish and Italian actors (with a Mexican and an American thrown in for good measure). Crucially, though, it’s no europudding; the likes of Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek deliver performances that are strong enough to keep the film and its three interweaving fairy tales ticking along, and there are a number of impressive turns from less widely-known cast members, such as Bebe Cave, Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael. Above all else, though, this is a film worth watching for its sumptous production design, striking photography and exemplary costume work.
Director Matteo Garrone – hitherto best known for his excellent and gritty Neapolitan crime film Gomorrah, which is a world away from this new effort – has taken three of Giambattista Basile’s lesser-known stories and imbued them with a distinctly adult-flavoured tone; due to reasonably strong scenes of sex and gory violence it’s apparent after five minutes that Tale Of Tales isn’t for children, even though Basile was the man behind the early versions of stories that later ‘inspired’ the Brothers Grimm to write the likes of Cinderella and Rapunzel. The film has a strong sense of tone that brings to mind the work of Guillermo del Toro, first and foremost, though I’ve seen Tale Of Tales imaginatively described as ‘Pasolini meets Monty Python’ elsewhere. Garrone clearly revels in the macarbre material, with monsters, giant fleas, ogres, witches and necromancers vying for screen time with the common fairy tale staples like kings, queens, princes and princesses. He also deftly incorporates a number of sudden twists and unexpected bouts of violence, and though I doubt many adults will find Tale Of Tales disturbing by today’s standards, I found the trio of stories quite engaging as a result of these deviations, as well as being weird and unfamiliar enough to hold my interest. Of the three it was Jones’ performance as a foolish king who neglects his daughter that eventually made that particular thread my favourite, although the most extravagant visual elements and special effects are largely to be found within the story about Salma Hayek’s queen, and the prices she must pay in order to give birth to a son. It’s shot mainly in and around three gorgeous castles in Italy, and although there’s certainly plenty of style over substance here, when the style in question is as beautiful and as imaginative as this I’m not going to complain too much.
Directed by: Matteo Garrone.
Written by: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso. Based on Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile.
Starring: Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Vincent Cassel, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, John C. Reilly.
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky.
Editing: Marco Spoletini.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Running Time: 134 minutes.