“Every new life calls for a life to be lost. The equilibrium of the world must be maintained. Are you willing to accept the risk?”
Such are the words pronounced by a Necromancer at the onset of Matteo Garrone’s film, straight away setting it in a fairytale landscape.
However, ‘Tale of Tales’ is definitely a departure from the many Hollywood fairy stories of the like of Cinderella and Snow White and the Huntsman to only cite a couple, which have been recently (re)adapted for the big screen.
The film which is loosely based on the work of Giambattista Basile, revolves around three main stories which all take place in the same realm.
First stop is the story of a barren Queen who longs so much to give birth to a child that she is willing to sacrifice her warm hearted husband to achieve her goal; then we meet a buffon like king who – too engrossed in taking care of a gigantic pet flea (!) – ends up marrying his daughter to an ogre. Finally, Vincent Cassel plays an hedonistic monarch who is bewitched by an angel like singing voice only to realise after the deed that it belongs to an old spinster.
Once passed the grotesque of each stories, Garrone reveals universal and timeless tales of changes and desillusion. Especially, it puts the emphasis on women at different stages of their lives, with subject matters surprisingly modern and relevant – the desire for children, for youth and beauty as well as recognised power.
Personally, out of the three tales, I was the most taken with the story of Violet (played by Bebe Cave), the young princess who desperately longs for her father attention, and takes refuge in epic romantic tales while dreaming of the perfect husband. All through the film, the viewer is taken on her journey to emancipation, and eventually sees her becoming a monarch on her own account.
One thing to be sure, Garrone’s film is beautiful; on many occasions the scenes displayed on the screen resemble the most wonderful painting (Dora, wrapped in a red curtain, awakening in her new body perhaps being the most striking of all).
However, it often feels like the stories are overlapping too much without any ounce of logical connection. The tales end up distracting from each other in some ways, and perhaps betrays a lack of stylistic position from Matteo Garrone.
If taken on its own, the Buster Keaton-esque character of the king played by Toby Jones offers many genius sequences, it often becomes lost in the broad aspect of the story.
This being said, I am awaiting Garrone’s next project which will tackle the difficult (some say cursed) story of Pinocchio.
‘Tale of Tales’ is showing from 1st July in the UK.