TALE OF TALES

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Just 15 minutes into its run-time and Tale of Tales delivers one of the most fantastically staged, visually striking and stomach-churning images you are likely to see this year – a barren Queen (Samla Hayek) sat in an ornate all-white room, devouring the fleshy red heart of a recently slain sea monster with an unquenchable hunger. It's a moment that encapsulates the entirety of Tale of Tales: a gory, twisted and entrancing collection of adult only fairy tales.

 

Yet Tale of Tales is far more than mere surface and while its rich imagery transports you to a fantastical world, its narrative imparts disturbing lessons on innate human emotions such as greed, desire and jealousy. Loosely based on a collection of tales from 17th-century Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile (who inspired writers like the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault) Tale of Tales is Italian film-maker Matteo Garrone's English-language début. The film begins on an infertile Queen's visit by a necromancer in the kingdom of Darkwood, who promises her she can conceive if she retrieves a sea monster's heart, has it cooked by a virgin in solitude, and then consumes said heart. Although the King (John C Reily) is slain in the process, the prophecy is fulfilled and the Queen gives birth to a white-haired child called Elias (Christian Lees). But the Queen's actions aren't without consequence and the virginal cook delivers an identical son named Jonah (Jonah Lees) whose blossoming friendship with Elias leaves the Queen envious and resentful.

 

In the kingdom of Highmountain a childish King (Toby Jones) neglects his daughter Violet's (Bebe Cave) marital urges in favour of a pet flea which he feeds with steaks and blood until it reaches gigantic proportions. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances Violet eventually becomes wed to an ogre who keeps her captive in her mountain-top cave. Elsewhere, the lustful King (Vincent Cassel) of Strongcliff becomes enraptured by the voice of a mysterious woman unaware she is one of two wrinkled sisters Imma (Shirley Henderson) and Dora (Hayley Carmichael). The pair scheme a mischievous plan to exploit this case of mistaken identity.

 

Each actor feels perfectly cast, performing their role superbly and completely authentically. Jones particularly stands out as a ludicrously infantile King and Cave puts in a remarkably assured performance as the King's neglected daughter - marking herself as a serious up-and-coming talent. Hayek is also a commanding presence as the jealous Queen of Longtrellis and Henderson and Carmichael expertly mix genuine pathos and humour as the two elderly sisters. It's refreshing to see such prominent and powerful female characters vividly brought to life in this kind of setting and genre.

 

The three narrative strands initially appear unrelated and as a result Tale of Tales can feel slightly episodic, but at the film's climax they intertwine in captivating and narratively satisfying ways. While the typical fairy tale themes at play here of true love, transformation, obsession, class, devil's bargain and superficial appearances will be familiar to most viewers, Garrone still manages to pull the rug from under our feet with several subversive moments (Violet's story is particularly unpredictable and gloriously entertaining) as well as with a host of memorable, unique images. Every frame is intricately detailed and along with some stunning practical creature effects this is a world which Garrone makes completely believable yet distinctly otherworldly, unsettlingly grotesque yet utterly beautiful.
 

Special Features: Three cast interviews / Trailer

 

TALE OF TALES / CERT:15 / DIRECTOR: MATTEO GERRONE / SCREENPLAY BY EDOARDO ALBINATI, UGO CHITI, MATTEO GARRONE, MASSIMO GAUDIOSO / STARRING SALMA HAYEK, TOBY JONES, VINCENT CASSEL, SHIRLEY HENDERSON / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 8TH
 


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