The Tale of Tales (2015)

taleoftales_2015_poster
  • Time: 125 min
  • Genre: Fantasy | Horror | Romance
  • Director: Matteo Garrone
  • Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones

Storyline:

The film serves as Garrone’s English-language debut and will interweave three separate story strands bookended by brief bits in which Italians Alba Rohrwacher and Massimo Ceccherini will play a street circus family. In one tale Salma Hayek will play a jealous queen who forfeits her husband’s life. In another, Vincent Cassel plays a king whose passion is stoked by two mysterious sisters.

2 reviews

  • “Here is the husband that you chose for me. Please, forgive me.”

    “Tale of Tales” is based on stories of the 17th century author Giambattista Basile from Napoli. Three strange tales are ingeniously interwoven and subsequently they end with a not so impressive conclusion. Each of them are atypical fairy tales. One more insane than the other. You can expect some dark stories with a fairly shocking ending. Three kingdoms, each with their own concerns and problems. The moment I saw the queen of Longtrellis consuming the bloody heart of a sea monster, I knew these weren’t exactly stories I would read to my children. Rather, these are fairy tales for adults provided with some rather strange twists.

    In well-known fairy tales, events are usually presented more rosy. And almost all of them have a happy ending. In “Tale of Tales” however you’ll witness disturbing events with which the ruling nobles are being confronted. And don’t expect a happy ending or a pig with a long snout. All in all these are fairy tales with a touch of absurd black humor. No, these tales won’t make you happy. However, I must admit I enjoyed it more and more as the film progressed. A series of erotically charged and brutal confrontational scenes drenched with loads of melancholy and sadness. To my surprise this two-hour movie was finished before I realized it.

    The same values and tribulations as they occur in children’s fairy tales, are presented here. Making an unfulfilled wish come true, providing that something else will be sacrificed. Dazzling neurotic acts that cause painful confrontations. Morbid adoration that stands in the way of making any kind of realistic decision. You can find insanity in every separate story. And this because of an absurd motive that’ll lead to an absurd development.

    First of all there’s the story of the king (John C. Reilly) and queen (Salma Hayek) of Longtrellis who carry out a fairly strange rite because of an unfulfilled desire to have children. Such as digesting the cooked heart of a sea monster. However, it has fatal consequences and the final result (in the form of twin brothers Christian and Jonah Lees) looks rather creepy. Then there’s the king of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel), who’s plagued by an insatiable lust and has an unlimited appetite for female nudity. This adoration blinded him so that he ended up courting a lady whose voice sounds sweet, but whose appearance isn’t exactly youthful . And finally there’s the king of Highhills (Toby Jones) who suddenly exhibits a morbid love for a flea. He starts feeding it secretly and thus puts the future of his only daughter at stake. The latter story had a big “wtf” feeling and really blew my mind. Absurdity at best.

    The whole film has a true Renaissance-like appearance and looks perfect. The costumes, the fortresses and the poor villages. It looks authentic and realistic. Brilliant how a medieval era comes to life on the screen. The participating actors I found extremely fascinating. The personification of certain obsessions (as we sometimes encounter even in our modern times) is brilliantly portrayed. Especially Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones score high on the scale of insanity. The most sinister character was the scary looking necromancer (Franco Pistoni). In my view, this was an extremely successful film. But due to the amount of blood and bosoms, it certainly isn’t suitable for children’s eyes.

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  • A king who dotes upon a flea. An old woman who tricks a monarch into believing her young and beautiful. A queen who eats the heart of a sea monster to become pregnant. These are some of the characters who figure in director Matteo Garrone’s lush and imaginative adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s fairy tales.

    The Brothers Grimm were ardent admirers of the early 17th century Neapolitan’s works, and it’s not hard to see why. Basile trafficked in the bizarre, bloody and darkly comic and many of his tales served as touchstones and even foundations for the stories spun by The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and even the more sanitised tellings upon which Walt Disney built the fortunes of his magic kingdom. It may be peculiar that Garrone opted out of filming the tales from Basile’s Pentamerone in their native language, but it is a smart strategy as the casting of such stars as Salma Hayek and Vincent Cassel assists in expanding the film beyond European waters.

    Garrone employs an interwoven structure, shuttling back and forth between three stories. The first, based on La Cerva Fatata (The Enchanted Doe) concerns a childless King and Queen (John C. Reilly and Hayek). They are visited by a mysterious figure (Franco Pistoni) who promises that the Queen can become pregnant if they can slay a sea monster and have its heart cooked by a virgin for the Queen to consume. However, the figure warns, a new life comes at the sacrifice of another. Indeed, the devoted King dies in killing the monster but the Queen at last gets her heart’s desire. She gives birth to a son but so does the virgin, and the identical twin boys (Christian and Jonah Lees) – one a prince, the other a servant – become inseparable friends much to the Queen’s displeasure.

    In a neighbouring kingdom, a petulant princess (Bebe Cave) wishes her father (Toby Jones) would place more focus in securing her a husband. The king has more important matters on his mind, namely caring for a flea who returns his affections. This story, from La Pulce (The Flea), veers in surprisingly absurd directions, with the flea becoming indirectly responsible for the princess being wedded to an ogre (Guillaume Delaunay), a beast that decidedly does not turn into a prince.

    La Vecchia Scorticata (The Flayed Old Lady) is the basis for the third and arguably most affecting tale. A lusty king (Vincent Cassel) hears the sweet singing of a woman in the distance and, surmising she must be as angelic in looks as she is in voice, resolves to have her. The voice, unbeknownst to him, belongs to an elderly crone (Hayley Carmichael) who, despite her equally wrinkly sister’s (Shirley Henderson) protestations, arranges to meet the king under conditional cover of darkness. The consequences of her scheme prove more tragic for her sister, the final image of whom is both morbid and poignant.

    The sisters’ segment not-so-subtly touches upon the still existing obsession with eternal youth and beauty and the extreme lengths taken for their preservation, but all the stories share a darker morality. Comeuppances are self-inflicted. If endings are happy, then much suffering was endured. Yet lessons learned are not the primary intent of either Basile or Garrone. Entertainment is, and Tale of Tales succeeds on that count. This is an immersive, ribald, and unwholesome portmanteau film, brimming with the macabre and the fantastical. Its emblematic image may be that of Hayek’s blood-smeared face as she determinedly devours the monster’s heart in her all-white dining room.

    Striking images abound: a lissome Stacy Martin as a transmogrified beauty, her long tresses covering her pale nakedness, as she lies sprawled on a red sheet in the middle of the forest; Reilly’s King in a diving suit straight out of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; the twin boys swimming underwater, their albino appearance rendering them like water nymphs; the weirdly tender embrace the king bestows upon a now-engorged flea.

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