Tale of Tales, film review: ‘Stunning compendium of Italian fairy tales’

Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales - Credit: Archant

Director Matteo Garrone came to international attention with Gomorrah, a forensic dissection of the mafia that picked apart its grip on Italy.

It may be the only unglamorous gangster film that actually doesn’t glamorise its subject.

Now, for his first English language film, he applies that same intense scrutiny to a compendium of traditional Italian fairy tales and folk myths, first assembled by Giambattista Basile in the first half of the 17th century.

The approach is just as merciless.

The film is full of kings and princesses, sea monsters and mutated insects, witches and ogres, striking castle and beautiful landscapes; and it is violent, brutal, creepy, disturbing and melancholic.

These Italian fairy tales; they are no fairy tale.

There are three stories, which intertwine and interconnect, featuring three kings: King Reilly will make any sacrifice to give his queen Hayek a child; King Jones is keen to marry off his daughter Cave but gets distracted by a flea; King Cassel is just keen to jump on every attractive girl in his kingdom until he becomes entranced by the beautiful singing voice of an ugly old crone who lives shut away dyeing clothes.

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It is looks marvellous; shot in remarkable locations and done with the minimum of computer assistance.

An early scene where Reilly goes off to fight a sea monster is eerily effective, both charmingly primitive in the way it seems to recall monster movie from half a century ago, but as beautiful rendered and evocative as any CGI wonder.

Stacy Martin’s introduction to the film is comparable to Uma Thurman Venus De Milo entrance in Baron Munchausen.

As an Italian film maker Garrone can be seen to be following in his country’s film making traditions – Fellini, Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life films (Decameron, Canterbury Tales, 1001 Arabian nights) - but Garrone’s vision is quite different from theirs.

It isn’t exuberant and wild but very controlled and rather distant: for most of the film we are kept at arm’s length from proceedings. As we move through these stone castles you can almost feel the draft.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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