Tale of Tales (2015)

“I want to be with my sister.”

‘Tale of Tales’, directed by Matteo Garrone in 2015, is a European adaptation of three Giambattista Basile stories with adult horror overtones. The three stories are unlinked, but the characters meet at the beginning (a funeral) and the end (a wedding). One story focuses on a queen whose desire for a child leads her to make a Faustian bargain, one features a king who becomes distracted by his love for a flea and allows his daughter to be taken by an ogre, whilst the final story features two elderly sisters who go to ever increasing lengths to regain their youth. As with Jacques Demy’s ‘Donkey Skin’, this movie taps into the dark heart of the fairy-story so the tone is both frightening and unsettlingly visceral. As with Demy as well, and possibly Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, you get the impression that this is an attempt at an ‘anti-Disney’ film, just as the American studio is beginning to produce their own live action (sanitised) versions of traditional stories. How successful Garrone is in recreating the bizarre and alien tone of the historical fairy-tale is probably a matter of taste, but in many ways he resists going too far: the humour in the stories is muted and he often shies away from focusing on the explicit violence. The stories also feel thematically disjointed and, whilst this is clearly a result of the source material, it would have been more satisfactory if they were somehow knitted together more neatly. The look and style of the film are the highlights of this movie however: the colour, the sense of carnival and the elaborate costumes all combine in the same way that made both Fellini and Demy so distinctive. Finally it’s a European project that speaks volumes about how different national cultures, searching for the stories that bind them together, can create something truly unique. Another argument for increased rather than decreased collaboration.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in an insane afternoon’s double-bill with ‘Donkey Skin’, but, as it’s a film that relies so heavily on style and appearance, certainly try to watch it on the big screen first.

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