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Tale Of Tales is a Felliniesque fantasy drama, distinguished by its lavish production design and very fluid camera work. The film may seem like a departure from director Garrone’s breakthrough feature Gomorrah (about feuding Mafia families in southern Italy) but takes a similarly picaresque approach to its subject matter.
The film is based on three fantastical stories by 16th-century Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile. In one, a barren queen (Salma Hayek) is told that if she wants to have a child, all she and her husband the king (John C Reilly) need to do is hunt down a sea monster, cut out its heart and have it cooked by a virgin for the queen to eat.
In another, a king (Toby Jones) offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can identify the huge worm-like creature – a gigantic flea he displays in his court. In the third, a hedonistic monarch (Vincent Cassel) is bewitched by the beautiful singing he hears from afar. He is desperate to sleep with the possessor of such an exquisite voice but doesn’t realise that she is an old spinster.
Garrone intercuts between the three tales, each of which is based around deception, transformation, doubles and reversal of fortune. There are plenty of pleasures along the way here – the wonderfully fey vocal work by Shirley Henderson as the old hag, Cassel’s self-mocking performance as the Lothario-like king, the expression on Jones’s face when he realises his beloved daughter is to marry an ogre, the underwater scenes with Reilly taking on the Nessie-like monster, the slapstick reminiscent of silent movies in which characters are thrown out of windows or look as if they’re going to fall off precipices. Cuteness and grotesquerie sit side by side. Even so, the film feels like a missed opportunity.
Pitched between fairy tale and adult allegory, it isn’t as decadent as Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales, but nor does it have the sense of innocence and wonder found in the best kids’ fantasies. The three overlapping stories distract from one another and the extravagant storytelling style risks becoming cloying. — Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent
Thu September 8, 2016, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Italy, 2015, in English, Color, 133 min, 2.35 : 1, Rated R for sexuality, nudity, some violence and bloody images
Director: Matteo Garrone, Screenplay: Ugo Chiti, Novel: Giambattista Basile, Screenplay: Edoardo Albinati, Screenplay: Massimo Gaudioso, Screenplay: Matteo Garrone, Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson