Tale of Tales Review: Visually Stirring, But Unfocused

Photo Credit:http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/14/matteo-garrone-tale-of-tales-glowing-reviews-cannes

It’s easy to forget that many fairy tales are dark in nature. Disney’s catalogue of colorful films has ensured that light is found in these children’s stories. But their origins can be much more grim. Tale of Tales adapts three stories from the famous 18th century collection of short stories of the same name. Director Matteo Garrone adapts them with skill, but makes a crucial error in their organization throughout the film.

What would have worked better as separate vignettes that point toward each others’ endings ends up being a jumbled mess that causes each of the stories to lose momentum when we switch to another. So for all the gorgeous cinematography of Italian castles, not to mention Alexander Desplat’s excellent score, Tale of Tales comes up short in terms of emotion and pacing.

We’re first introduced to the Queen and King of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly, respectively) as they struggle to conceive a child. A Necromancer (Franco Pistoni) tells them if the queen eats the heart of a sea monster cooked by a virgin, she’ll instantly become pregnant. But two children (Christian and Jonah Lees) are born, one for the queen and one for the virgin, who look identical and grow to become great friends as they grow up. This makes the queen uncomfortable, so she sets out to keep them apart forever.

Meanwhile, the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) ignores his teenage daughter (Bebe Cave) in favor of a pet flea that grows larger and larger than a flea has ever needed to. As the flea consumes the king’s life, he mistakenly marries his daughter off to an ogre (Guillaume Delaunay).

Finally, two elderly sisters (Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael) vie for the affection of the King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) after he catches one of them singing, but doesn’t see how old she is. But only one of them ends up getting a real chance.

What ties these three stories together is the theme of selfishness that runs throughout. The morals here play like the fables you were read as a child. But that doesn’t make Tale of Tales a movie for kids. It’s dark, occasionally scary, and almost always off-putting. This sort of nightmarish fairy tale makes for an interesting but flawed film. Had more focus been put on adapting the various stories instead of interweaving them, the film may have greatly benefitted. Instead we get a scattered mess that at least leaves us with some striking visuals. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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