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Posts Tagged ‘Matteo Garrone’

If you were the producer of a lavish, Anglophone fantasy movie, featuring stars from noted American franchises, and released in that period of early-to-mid-summer when some of the biggest hits of the year are traditionally forged, you would usually be a little bit irked if your project ended up relegated to the wilderlands of art-house showings. But if the film in question is Tale of Tales and you are its director, Matteo Garrone, it may be a different matter, for something about this film tells me it is the product of a sensibility for which mass populism is not the over-riding concern.

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I suppose there is a sense in which this is not really a fantasy but a fairy tale (the differences between the two: discuss), although there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – recent evidence indicates that over 51% of British voters are suckers for fairy tales, provided they are pitched just right and repeated frequently enough. On the other hand, fairy tales are traditionally associated with quite young people, while Tale of Tales is packed with enough gore, nudity, and associated naughtiness to make it very questionable entertainment for all but the broadest-minded of families. (Slightly ironic, given that the collection of folk tales which inspired the movie was also a primary source when the Brothers Grimm were assembling their own fairy tales.)

This is one of them there anthology films, recounting a trilogy of off-beat narratives, very loosely linked at the beginning and end. The first concerns the dangerously broody Queen of Darkwood (Salma Hayek), who is prepared to take advice from very suspect sources in order to actually have a child. As a result her devoted husband the King (John C Reilly, briefly appearing) is prepared to put on a deep-sea diving suit and engage in mortal combat with a sea-monster, as the Queen has been told that only by eating the heart of such a beast can she actually bear a child.

Well, the beast is slain and the Queen has her baby – but in an unforeseen wrinkle, the woman who cooks the heart also has a child, and as the two boys grow up they prove to be identical to one another, with an unnatural affinity for water and a very close bond. As one of them is a peasant and the other the heir presumptive, this is very much not to the Queen’s liking… but with her beloved son and his hated friend being quite so identical, is there anything she can safely do about it?

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring kingdom of Stronghold, the highly-sexed king (Vincent Cassell) falls in love with a mysterious woman based solely on the beauty of her singing voice, little realising that the shy Dora (Hayley Carmichael) is actually a wrinkly old crone in her seventies or eighties who lives with her equally wrinkly old sister (Shirley Henderson). The king remains insistent, Dora is – on reflection – wildly over-optimistic, and something very farcical seems to be on the cards.

The final story concerns the foolish king of Highmountain (Toby Jones), who becomes fascinated by his pet flea, which he indulges until it reaches a quite extraordinary size, in the process neglecting his sweet and high-spirited daughter (Bebe Cave). What follows is more like a parody of a fairy tale than anything else, involving an ogre, brave gypsies, impossible quests, and much more along the same lines.

Something else that links the three stories is the fact that none of them exactly come to a happy ending. The story of the twin boys is pretty dark all the way through, the tale of the crone sisters initially seems like a bawdy romp, and that of the king and his flea is just absurd, but they all conclude with gory unpleasantness and, more often than not, violent death. There’s a sense in which this is probably quite true-to-source – the ending of the original version of Little Red Riding Hood, for instance, is quite horrible – but it does make for rather a downer ending for what started off as a drolly whimsical film.

If I had to make a comparison, I would say the closest thing to Tale of Tales that I’ve seen would be a Terry Gilliam film – maybe either Holy Grail or Jabberwocky, though this isn’t quite as anarchic as the former or as scatological as the latter. It has the same almost-palpable sense of earthy history to it, some of the same visual flair, the same understated comedy and fine performances – though, to be fair, most of it is played deadpan-straight. (Some good monsters, too.)

I suppose I should also mention that the tale of the old crones, which prominently features attractive naked young women and concludes on a moment of proper grand guignol, also put me rather in mind of a late period Hammer Horror, albeit one made on a very big budget. This story probably benefits from obviously being about something (our obsession with youth and beauty), while the other two storylines just meander about amiably.

All Tale of Tales‘ quality and visual lavishness – this is a beautiful, beautiful film, as exquisitely designed and photographed as any I’ve seen this year – is really a bit undermined by the fact that, as an anthology movie, its pacing is inevitably a bit disjointed – a great movie has a beginning, a middle, and an end, after all, not a beginning, a beginning, and a beginning, then a middle, a middle, and a middle, and so on.

I suppose this is the really odd and frustrating thing about Tale of Tales, in the end: this is a film about stories – the title kind of gives it away – and formidable talent has clearly been brought to bear in every department of the film… except that of the script itself. This is by no means bad, and the film remains engagingly odd throughout, but you never really lose yourself in any of the stories – it’s all just a bit too calculatedly arty or arch for the stories to work their own magic, and the fact that none of them have what you could really call a satisfying climax is a bit of an issue too.

As I said, this is a fabulous-looking movie and it does have a more authentic sense of the genuinely weird about it than any of the Hollywood fantasy films I’ve seen this year – more of a sense of humour, too. But in the end I can’t shake the impression that this is intended to be more enjoyed as a work of art than as an actual exercise in storytelling. Still, worth seeing if you like this sort of thing.

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