If Rob Marshall’s INTO THE WOODS (2015) has taught us anything then it’s to be careful what you wish for; a lesson TALE OF TALES director Matteo Garrone must have missed. TALE OF TALES explores three dark and interconnected Italian fairytales which would give Guillermo Del Toro a run for his money. A collage of fantastical and sinister plots, TALE OF TALES is a truly unusual film focussing on desire and the consequences which follow.
Opening on a convincing medieval courtyard which is soon followed into a room occupied by two protagonists of the first tale, Salma Hayek (WILD WILD WEST (1999) and AMERICANO (2011)) and John C. Reilly (STEPBROTHERS (2008) and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)) as Queen and King of Longtrellis. Troubled by emotions Hayek reveals her distress at her inability to conceive a child, and springboards the first fairytale into motion after receiving a visit from a sombre and ghoulish necromancer. Challenged with the task of eating the heart of a great white sea monster in order to become pregnant Hayek rushes at the chance insisting the king must take on the beast. Fast forward 16 years to where all three fairytales occur simultaneously.
The second tale exists in the form of two witch-like sisters, Imma and Dora, living in a small cottage who are visited by a drunken and promiscuous King of Strongcliff ravenously played by Vincent Cassel (OCEAN’S TWELVE (2004) and BLACK SWAN (2010)). The desire to be loved is matched by the King’s lust to which is left resulting in a story centred around the sisters desperation to be youthful again and eventually jealousy between sisters.
The third and final fairytale enclosed in this film is that of the King of Highills and his daughter Violet, played sublimly by Toby Jones (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) and DAD’S ARMY (2016)) and Bebe Cave (GREAT EXPECTATIONS (2012) and CIDER WITH ROSIE (2015)) respectively. From the start of this tale it becomes apparent that the King has lost some connection with his daughter and transfers his paternal instinct towards an enigmatic flea (As strange as this sounds this moment in the film is comparatively normal which really does show how zany and creative the film plot is). Violet strives to have a life away from her father to genuinely experience the world for herself; however, regret arrives in the form of an Ogre and the strength of the father and daughter bond the King and Violet share is tested.
“…mesmerised by the sheer magical nature for the full [feature].”
TALE OF TALES is crafted precisely with each tale interwoven to delay any early conclusions and lengthen the time the audience cares for each character. Appearing to utilise aesthetics from films such as PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and BLUEBEARD (2009) as well as from TV productions such as GAME OF THRONES (2011 – ). Originally inspired from Italian fairytales from Giambattista Basile, Garrone has managed to extract Italian essence and produce an English language film, his debut for English language, which delivers to the audience all of the wonder and culture of a foreign language film. The styling Garrone brings to the film allows for a concise and believable story, enabling the audience to be mesmerised by the sheer magical nature for the full 133 minutes. Questionably loaded with far too much content, the film however succeeds in delivering three tales which are recreated expertly.
For a first English language film, full credit must be commended to Garrone who has mastered a difficult project and delivered a film of a calibre in line with horror directors such as Guillermo Del Toro (DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) and PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)) and Frank Darabont (THE MIST (2007)). A film of a similar taste consisting of a cleaner plot would serve as an ideal next project for Garrone and cement his name amongst the greats. TALE OF TALES ultimately entertained and thrilled audiences not only with an impressive cast but alongside triumphant fairytales of an remarkable quality.
Score: 3.5 stars
Review by John Cheshire