Tale of Tales (2015)
Directed by Matteo Garrone, best known for his raw crime drama Gomorrah (2008), “Tale of Tales” or “Il Racconto dei Racconti” is a fantasy horror film which comprises three main stories seemingly running in parallel. The first story starts with the Queen (Salma Hayek) and King (John C. Reilly) of the kingdom Longtrellis, desperately wanting a child but who are unable to have one, thereby resorting to extreme clandestine measures of killing a sea monster and consuming its heart to have a son, whose identical twin is also the son of a servant woman. Another story tells of the King of the kingdom Highhills (Toby Jones) arranging a tournament to wed his only daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) by making participants guess the large creature whose skin is on the display – the skin is that of a flea. The third story centers on two elderly sisters who live calmly away from the public eye only for their peace to be shuttered when one of the sisters becomes bewitched and transformed into a young beauty (Stacy Martin) who, in turn, becomes the centre of affection for the lustful King of the kingdom Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel).
Both the content and presentation of the film are remarkable. Edoardo Albinati wrote the film screenplay which is also based on the fairy tales by Giambattista Basile. There will be both: those who will derive a secret pleasure from the stories and those who will completely misunderstand all the intentions behind them. There is a grotesque, almost macabre feel to the film plot: we see the heart of a sea-monster cooked by a virgin to induce a pregnancy within an hour; the mysterious bond formed between twin albino brothers “fathered” by a sea-monster; the attachment strengthened between a King and a giant flea whom he keeps as a pet; the marriage sealed of a spoiled and pampered young Princess to an ogre; and the blind lust developed by a King towards a poor old woman whom he imagines to be a divine young creature. The imagination is limitless here, and what is brilliant in this film is that each scene is treated as “a matter of fact”, rather than as some evident exaggeration of a well-rehearsed fantasy tale episode.
The picture is also beautifully presented, from the fancy costumes to the breathtaking views from the palaces: the camera dives underwater to shoot the King-killing-the-sea-monster sequel or it circles the garden labyrinths of a palace to find albino twins riding their way to the sunset. This, coupled with a stellar cast, convincing acting and a magic soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat (“The Painted Veil” (2006), “Lust, Caution” (2007)) make for an unforgettable movie, quite worth of its impressive four nominations for the Italian David di Donatello Awards, including in the categories of Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Director.
However, all good things must come to an end, and, towards the end of the film, its magical quality dims. The main problem does not lie in the very confusing final attempt by the Queen to return her son in one of the stories, or in the exasperating attempts to bring the film’s three plots together (although both are fruitless). The issue here is rather the final action sequence involving Violet, the daughter of the King of the kingdom Highhills, and her escape from the ogre, her husband. These scenes are so over-the-top they are quite at odds with the rest of the film’s imaginative quality and actually become so ludicrous as being almost unwatchable – so comical they are.
Despite the evident weakness in the plot towards the movie’s end, “Tale of Tales” is still a philosophically-intriguing, beautifully-presented, artful, imaginative and simply different kind of a film – the movie to watch for any brave soul out there who is not easily put off by riddled fairy-like plots with odd twists. 7/10