By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is the latest picture from Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone. He brings the world a fantasy drama called Tale of Tales.
The stars are out in force here with Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones all central protagonists. Supporting cast includes John C. Reilly, Jessie Cave and Shirley Henderson.
I caught this surreal flick at the Phoenix Leicester… I’m so glad they allow alcohol into screenings, you’ll need it to get your head around this…
From the bitter quest of the Queen of Longtrellis, to two mysterious sisters who provoke the passion of a king, to the King of Highhills obsessed with a giant Flea, these tales are inspired by the fairytales by Giambattista Basile. Tale of Tales is made up of several mini-stories that never entwine but leave a lasting impression.
This is Garrone’s first English feature and he wastes no time diving straight in to a very complex film. The odd narrative incorporates four overlapping stories in a kingdom filled with ensemble of mythological beasts, magical powers and royal schemes. Many sequences throughout, normally a standout one in each story, go to crazy extremes like a queen (Salma Hayek) eating a sea monster’s heart or a king (Toby Jones) nurturing a foal-sized flea. Garrone flirts between the stories scene after scene, so we need to remember what has happened previously to pick up where we left off – that can be sometimes a chore. You get the impression that as each series of strange events will end up in one big mythical universe.
Within the first 20 minutes, we know exactly how unhinged this movie is. A king and husband (John C. Reilly) must slay a sea monster for his wife and queen (Hayek) to give birth. He ventures into battle and successful acquires the heart. Following this, a virgin must cook the heart for the queen to consume. As the above happens, both the virgin maid and the queen fall pregnant for just one day and give birth to magical twins from different mothers… I know!
Straight after this, we see Vincent Cassel court a potential lover through a closed door as he hears her sing one morning. Little does he know she is riddled with old age and her skin is haggard. One thing leads to another and love is made until he realises his mistake. Bearing in mind folks, this is all within the first 30 minutes!
The final two stories are connected as the king who looks after the flea (we have spoken about this) has a daughter who is married off to a brutish ogre. The ogre imprisons her as his possession and is willing to kill anyone who tries to take her away.
All these storylines are aided by incredible and practical effects that allow the film to blossom. Tale of Tales wouldn’t be as enchanting if it wasn’t for the CGI. The sea monster, the flea, the ogre and the makeup department are all fantastic.
On the flip side, the narrative is disjointed. The main problem Garrone must monitor is making sure the four stories being told are all as interesting as each other. I’m not sure that is the case but to counter act this, Matteo successfully creates a world that is fully believable and entertaining. It has similar setting to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones with a little bit of Pans Labyrinth thrown in. So the stories may fall a bit flat at times but we are well and truly invested into the mythical lands.
The performances from the central characters are all admirable. Toby Jones and Salma Hayek in particular. They have a few scenes that are oddly heartfelt and you even feel like you can relate – even when Toby cries over a dead 5ft flea. The pure surrealism of most the sequences are dipped in emotion and it makes for a more alluring film.
There’s a lot to Tale of Tales and it’s certainly deeper than you think. You need to go away and think about it. There’s an intriguing fantasy at the heart of it but the bigger picture revolves around the dangers of institutions and the delusions they create. Barring a few duff side plots and characters, it’s a decent watch. It’s insane, odd and at times you’re peering through your fingers, but to be fair, it’s certainly a tale of tales.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
Tale of Tales is showing until Thursday 7th July at the Phoenix Leicester with a limited UK release – certificate 15