poet Giambattista Basile’s fairy tale collection predated Charles Perrault and
the Brothers Grimm, but despite their subtitle, “Entertainment for Little Ones,”
they are considered idiosyncratically macabre and even a little NSFW. Of
course, those are both rather cinematic qualities. Matteo Garrone duly emphasizes
the strange and baroque in Tale of Tales (trailer here), his English
language adaptation of a trio of intertwined Basile fables, which screens as
part of the AFI’s 2015 EU Film Showcase.
neighboring kingdoms largely coexist quite peacefully, because their respective
monarchs are so self-absorbed with their own issues. Thanks to the help of a necromancer,
the Queen of Longtrellis magically conceives the son she always desired, at the
mere cost of her indulgent husband (and basically her soul). However, Prince
Elias never adequately returns her codependent love. Instead, he prefers to
spend time with the commoner Jonah, who is his exact spitting image.
King of Highmountain is equally problematic in the completely opposite way. He
ignores his antsy-to-be-married daughter, Princess Violet, preferring to obsess
over his abnormally large trained flea. When he finally makes a show of
arranging a contest for her hand, he inadvertently grants her hand to an ogre.
the horndog King of Strongcliff has fallen in lust with the voice of the
peasant Dora. However, he does not realize she is one of two old crone sisters
living hand-to-mouth in a cottage on his estate. Feigning coyness, Dora manages
to hold off the King until she can come to him under the dark of night.
you haven’t realized yet, there is sex in these fairy tales. There are also
flashes of violence that are shocking in the moment, but not at all gratuitous.
Be that as it may, it is easy to see why the archetypal source material has
been largely passed over by animators and children’s publishers. Tale of Tales still seems likely an
unlikely direction for an ultra-realist like Garrone, but he reportedly claims
all his films have a kinship with fairy tales. You can sort of see that in a
morality tale like Reality, but it is
less apparent in the thinly fictionalized social expose, Gomorrah.
there is a lot of cool stuff in Tale,
including Toby Jones talking to a giant flea and Salma Hayek eating a dragon’s
heart. There are also tightrope walkers, damsels in distress, damsels causing
distress, shapeshifters, and Shakespearean confusion with twins. Garrone and
editor Marco Spoletini shrewdly time the shifts between narrative strands,
maintaining a nice up-tempo pace. Alexandre Desplat also contributes a very
Desplat-sounding score (classy, but not particularly distinctive). However,
production designer Dimitri Capuani and the battery of art directors creates a
richly detailed fantasy world that is both lovely and sinister.
of Tales could be considered The Princess Bride’s evil twin, making
it exactly the sort of fairy tale movie we have needed. It is much more fun
than Catherine Breillart’s fairy tale films and more subversive than Snow White and the Huntsman.
Recommended for fans of dark fantasy, Tale
of Tales screens this Saturday (12/12) as part of the AFI’s EU Film
Labels: AFI EU Showcase '15, Fairy tale cinema, Matteo Garrone, Salma Hayek