Tale of Tales

 

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Rapturously beautiful, this Italian blend of 17th century fairytales enchants although the tales themselves lack real weight.

 
Tale of Tales

The big sleep: Stacy Martin

 

This film comes as a real surprise - and all the more so because it is the work of Matteo Garrone best known previously for the Mafia drama Gomorrah (2008). Tale of Tales is an absolute contrast being a loose adaptation of classic fairytales by Giambattista Basile written by Garrone himself  with three others. As such it is a quintessentially Italian work as is evidenced by the use of locations in that country as captured in the sumptuous images of Peter Suschitzky in colour and ’Scope. The fact that it has been filmed in English might in the circumstances have been a distraction, but in fact it works well. A further asset is the apt music score by the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat.

 

The tales in this film are three in number but instead of being told consecutively, they are intercut. All three are as fantastical as one expects from fairytales and each features a king although the first of these (John C.Reilly) dies early on. It is his queen (Salma Hayek) who is central to this particular tale concerning a ritual that results in her son and a commoner being born at the same time and looking like twins (and cast accordingly). The second king (Toby Jones) rashly offers his daughter (Bebe Cave) to anyone who can identify a huge hide only to find that an ogre comes up with the correct but surprising answer that it is that of a flea. The third king (Vincent Cassel) woos an unseen woman whose singing has captivated him, but he is quite unaware that this Dora (Hayley Carmichael) is ancient although she and her equally old sister (Shirley Henderson) are determined  to turn the situation to their advantage.

 

Although all three tales develop, none of them has a clear arc that would hint at ground still to be covered. Consequently, mixing them together regardless of their differences in tone leaves us unaware of how much is to come, and that means that at 134 minutes the film does seem very long. Also while magic, transformations and monsters are all on the menu, the tales in themselves are not specially memorable (although that could perhaps be a matter of taste). Personally I regard Tale of Tales as a triumph of style over content, but a triumph it undoubtedly is. The film is a feast for the eyes and it could well bolster tourism in Italy for years to come.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave, Stacy Martin, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Guillaume Delaunay, Alba Rohrwacher, Massimi Ceccherini.

 

Dir Matteo Garrone, Pro Matteo Garrone, Jeremy Thomas, Jean Labadie and Anne-Laure Labadie, Screenplay Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone and Massimo Gaudioso, loosely based on The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile, Ph Peter Suschitzky, Pro Des Dimitri Capuani, Ed Marco Spoletini, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Massimo Cantini.

 

Hanway Films/New Sparta Films/Le Pacte/RAI Cinema-Curzon Artificial Eye.
134 mins. Italy/France/UK. 2015. Rel: 17 June 2016. Cert. 15.