tale_of_tales_3Year: 2015
Director: Matteo Garrone
Writer(s): Giambattista Basile, Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Region of Origin: Italy
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 125 mins

Synopsis: Three kingdoms play host to a number of magical stories driven by greed and lust, but also love and desire. 

If you’ve ever been a fan of fairy tales, then director Matteo Garrone’s got you covered with his latest stunner, Tale of Tales. Based on a collection of stories from Giambattista Basile, it’s a sumptuous film brimming with imagination and awe, but also danger and treachery. Through rich, visual metaphor and outrageous imagination, the film’s fantastic visions use the impossible to speak truth about human desire, as well as exploring our penchant for greed or compassion. Not content to rely on happily ever after, Garrone’s latest is bound to surprise, delight and bewilder.

The film centers on three magical kingdoms, united by the ill-fated desires of their rulers and the consequences which spill out of their control. In one kingdom, a King (John C. Reilly) and Queen (Salma Hayek) have everything except a child. They consult a necromancer, who tells them that the only way to realize their dream is to have the Queen eat the heart of a sea best and sacrifice a life. In another kingdom, a King (Toby Jones) and his daughter, Violet (Bebe Cave), have a tenuous relationship at best. One day, the King is distracted by a flea which he takes in as a pet. This has literally enormous implications and results on a gamble that has severe consequences for his daughter. In the last kingdom, a sexually insatiable King (Vincent Cassel) falls in love with the voice of a woman (Stacy Martin) which he overhears from his castle. Unbeknownst to him, it belongs to an old woman who lives alone with her sister. Without knowing her or seeing what she looks like, he’s smitten and determined to make her his own. This sends the two sisters on a magical journey which may prove fatal for their relationship and each other. Though these three stories which blanket the film, there are many more tangents which branch out and are interspersed between each tale.

Garrone’s tales, as visually lavish as they are, aren’t afraid to explore darkness, making his characters suffer through the physical manifestations of their ill-advised avarice. Fans of the genre will be treated to the strange and peculiar, with no shortage of fanciful beasts and characters, whether it’s a pair of albino twins, underwater beasts, a mutant flea or a giant who lives deep in a cave, with stunning production design and decadent costumes which are a constant delight. If there’s a through line that ties all the stories together, it’s the self-destructive nature of greed and lust, but even then Garrone never forsakes a playful tone, smartly punctuating darkness with moments of pure cinematic wonder.

tale_of_tales_2There are too many performances to list by name, but all of the principles are great, turning in memorable characters who are as eccentric as they are charismatic. As the Queen of Longtrellis, Salma Hayek commands the screen, consumed with her need for offspring. As she does anything in her power to reach her goals, we get wrapped up in her desire, even if we are terrified by the means. Vincent Cassel’s King of Strongcliff is histrionic, adding lightness to a twisted tale of mistaken identity. If there’s someone who sneaks up on you, it’s Bebe Cave as the unassuming Violet. Sold off to a giant at the whim of her father, her character marks the biggest transition of the film and she really earns its final say, ending things strong. John C. Reilly is a delight in his brief role as a King who would do anything for his Queen, and is sorely missed when he’s gone.

In terms of anthologies, Tale of Tales is solid; it goes on for a smidge too long, but has more than enough curious oddities to keep us invested. Because of this, Garrone assaults the senses through and through, with a diverse set of Grimm-esque stories which count the cost and burden of nobility, and the way it can either corrupt or reward.