Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones
Loosely based on fairy tales by Giambattista Basile, we are told the story of an embittered Queen (Hayek) who will do anything to be able to conceive a child, a sex-obsessed King (Cassell) whose lustful pursuit of a woman yields unexpected results and a King’s (Jones) lack of care for the wellbeing of his daughter results in tragedy.
As a visual medium, film can offer us a unique depiction and experience of the world it uses as its setting and unleash the creative talents of directors, screenwriters, and in particular set designers. Books can of course describe these worlds very vividly (and admittedly at no extra expense), but a film can not only truly show and depict the creative imagination of some individuals, but share it and let the viewer immerse themselves into a world of escapism and wonder, where conventional logic is sometimes non-existent and unfortunately, innocent or good intentioned people die in sometimes brutal ways.
Well, Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is a film that does such a thing with great aplomb as it is most certainly a film of stunning visual creativity that successfully transports the viewer to its unique world. Though we have three separate stories involving three separate monarchs, they are all monarchs of separate kingdoms with their individual tales being told simultaneously, which certainly proves in my view to be more effective then telling them separately, one after the other. This allows all the tales to build together and the morals and themes behind each one to have a profound influence on our experience of the other.
As with all fairy tales, the three separate tales within the narrative are equally moralistic, dark and downright bonkers, and the creative storytelling is only matched by the film’s rich and luscious visuals. Tale of Tales is pure visual escapism and there is no denying that the set design, costume design and camerawork all successfully transport the viewer to the world it creates and provides some unforgettable and vivid imagery. However though we certainly get mythical creatures such as Ogres, Sea Monsters and giant fleas (!), we still have limitations for our characters and no easy or lazy conclusions (like in Harry Potter), which makes their own individual struggles and character journeys far more engaging, satisfying and in some ways, relatable. Some characters are of course created with CGI, but the design in these is very detailed, and everyone will be surprised by just how sorry they feel for a giant flea.
These stories being fairy tales, we of course get sex, gore and violence, but Garrone and the rest involved with the film show great discipline with their creativity, meaning all are used sparingly, and therefore even more effective when used. If Tale of Tales were a big budget blockbuster then I have no doubt there would be intrusive and over bearing CGI thrown at the screen everywhere, but as an independently funded film, Tale of Tales is a film that involves far more genuine creativity and is all the more rewarding a viewing experience for it.
The performances too are excellent; Salma Hayek is great as the Queen desperate to have the ability to conceive, and really brings to life her character’s anxieties and fears. Meanwhile Toby Jones is an actor I will watch in anything (even though he, like all actors, has certainly appeared in his fair share of tat) and he is fantastic in his role as a king who seems to care more for small bugs than the wellbeing of his own daughter. In fact, the entire cast of, many with unique facial or personal characteristics befitting of fairy tales, deliver superb performances that are perfectly in tone with the narrative.
At 2hours and 13 minutes long Tales of Tales is at times an effort to watch, and though despite the fact it has three stories to tell, could certainly benefit from slightly more rigorous and disciplined editing. A fair few scenes are slower and more drawn out then they need to be, and the film could easily shave off at least twenty minutes of its running time. It is a film that requires the viewer to put in some effort, but overall this effort is certainly rewarded by a story that with its lush visuals and lavish set design successfully depicts fairy tales as they should be; dark, nasty, unforgiving and brutal, and a refreshing alternative to the CGI heavy and family friendly Disney fairy tales that dominate our cinema screens these days.
A refreshingly dark, nasty, unforgiving and visually sumptuous film that shows fairy tales as they were originally intended to be told; Tale of Tales is bold, brutal and bonkers, and an immensely entertaining piece of cinematic escapism.