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
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