Director: Matteo Garrone
Writer: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Starring: John C Reilly, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael
Duration: 134 minutes
Country: Italy / France / United Kingdom
BBFC Certification: 15
The English-language feature film of Italian writer-director Matteo Garrone takes place in a 17th Century fairytale setting. The opening scene depicts what would seem to be players from a performance troupe walking up a bustling street, juggling and jesting; livestock randomly walk by; and a horse drawn carriage turns a corner. An obvious thing to say, but it feels like a dream. Within the dream there is a gothic darkness, that draws on archaic themes of fairytale, and is based on folk stories collected by Giambattista Basile in the 17th Century.
The film is constructed of three separate stories, about the royalty of three different fantastical kingdoms. The stories play out concentrically, providing a labyrinth for the mind to consider, and for surprises to leap out.
In the kingdom of Darkwood, the King (John C Reilly) is happy, but the Queen (Salma Hayek) is sad. She yearns to have a child, and so a wise man tells the King he must obtain the heart of a sea monster, and for a virgin to cook it for his Queen to eat; in this way she will conceive. The King dies in the process of slaying the sea monster, but the Queen gets to eat the heart, which is cooked by a virgin, and she gives birth to a baby boy. In parallel, the peasant woman, who is the virgin who cooks the sea monster’s heart, unbeknown to the queen, also bares a baby boy. Both children are albino boys, and as the story unfolds, they encounter and befriend each other. In some sense this is the tale of two cities, of both the prince and the pauper. Is the Queen’s love for the child, or for the fantasy of status that she wanted that child to offer?
In another kingdom, that of High Mountain, the story is of a King (Toby Jones) who seems to have no preconception of his daughters fate. This King is distracted from his daughter’s need to find a suitable husband, by his fascination with privately cultivating a flea. The flea grows into a giant form, and hides beneath his bed. Both Kafkaesque and surreal, this story possess slapstick comedy qualities, but it is also grotesque an bizarre. Tied up in this unwholesome and somewhat narcissistic fantasy, this King fails to identify his daughter with a suitor, allowing her to be effectively stolen by a real giant.
In another kingdom, that of Stronghold , the King (Vincent Cassel) obsesses to meet a beautiful young woman. He hears the singing voice of Imma (Shirley Henderson), but has not seen her face. The King believes Imma’s is the voice of a beautiful young woman, and he projects a wild lust filled fantasy upon her. Imma is in fact an old woman, who lives with her similarly old sister Dora (Hayley Carmichael). The king comes to their home, like a wolf knocking at the door. The sisters don’t let him in, and they have to construct a fantasy to convince the King Imma is the beautiful young woman, otherwise he will kill them. Dora contrives to sleep with the King in darkness, he lights a candle to see who she is, and them proceeds to throw her from the home, which is perched on a cliff. Her fall is broken by trees, and she comes to the attention of a witch who is able to feed her milk to transform her in to a beautiful young woman, and so the story continues.
Tale of Tales has a topsy turvy feel throughout. The production is of deep and bold hyper real colours. It would seem to combine computer graphics and animatronics. It is visually stunning.
Influences on the film seem to be as much the magical realism of post-modern writers such Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and Angela Carter, as the hyper-realist cinema of an auteur director such as Federico Fellini, but also the less highbrow surrealist gore cinema of the 1970s and 1980s.
For director Matteo Garrone this is a departure from the gritty realism, Gommorah, for which he is famous. He demonstrates with great success he can deliver this dreamlike and grotesque form of cinema.
Tale of Tales is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD in the UK, released by Curzon Artificial Eye.
The discs come with a few extra features:
– Interview with Director Mateo Garrone
– Interview with Salma Hayek
– Interview with Toby Jones
– Theatrical Trailer