Tale of Tales (2015) | A sumptuous and seductive anthology that will delight lovers of the macabre
A hit at Cannes, director Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti) is a sumptuous and seductive take on Neapolitan poet and courtier Giambattista Basile’s pioneering 17th-century fairy tale collection Pentamerone, where famous fables like Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella originated.
Shot in English, the Italian-French-British co-production interweaves three tales – La Cerva Fatata (The Enchanted Doe), La Pulce (The Flea), La Vecchia Scorticata (The Flayed Old Lady) – and features a stellar cast including Salma Hayek, playing a Queen whose desire for a child has deadly results; Toby Jones as a King who rues the day he inadvertently married his daughter off to an ogre; and Vincent Cassell as a lecherous nobleman who marries an old crone disguised as a beautiful maiden.
This glossy feast has been likened to the works of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, but it also echoes classy Euro anthologies like 1967’s Spirits of the Dead and The Witches, which gave legendary Italian directors Lucino Visconti, Vittoria de Sica and Federico Fellini the chance to show off their trademarks styles; and also Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life films, especially 1971’s The Decameron, which drew on the stories of Italian Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio.
Now, while this glorious tableaux made not have the gravitas and depth of those cinematic classics, it certainly bewitches with its sumptuous style and macabre imagery that includes a flea that grows to the size of a calf, a sea dragon whose cooked heart adds the birth of albino twins, a fearsome winged bat creature, a monstrous ogre that looks straight out of a 1960s peplum, and a wizened old maid who turns into a bloody mess when she has her skin flayed in a bid to look young again.
If there’s one criticism it’s with the endings of each story that tend to fizzle rather than pop – thus the moral of each tale is lost and overshadowed by the film’s inherent beauty. Still, this is a dream world worth exploring and one that makes me want to revisit those bygone Euro anthologies all over again as well as Basile’s original takles.
Tale of Tales is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Curzon Artifical Eye, and includes interviews with director Garrone, and stars Salma Hayek and Toby Jones, as well as the theatrical trailer.