Matteo Garrone’s first English speaking movie, Tale of Tales, is an adaptation of three short stories by 17th century Italian poet Giambattista Basile and it is a departure from his previous works. It stars an international cast headed by Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones and John C. Riley.
When shown in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film festival this enchanting film, by the talented director of Gomorrah, wasn’t very well received. It is simply not framed as a Palme d’Or contender and Gomorrah is clearly not a family oriented film as its title and themes might be misleading. Nonetheless, Garrone is a rare contemporary director who provides a wide range of diversity in his storytelling displaying an exceptional mastery for visual language (this time the colorful cinematography is by gifted cinematographer Peter Suschitzky). In this day and age of short on talent directors celebrated, because they apparently have an artistic approach, while doing the same film again and again with often dull imagery, every new Garrone movies is good news.
Tale of Tales interweaves three completely separate stories much in the way Garrone did with Gomorrah. As always with Garrone, the editing is put into unfamiliar territories.
From bitter queen to an old woman retrieving youth, by magic ways of much darker twists of the inevitable princess being molested by the Ogre or her King father obsessed with a giant ugly flea, like it was his pet dog, all characters are trying to interfere with destiny with mixed results.
The fact that people often expect traditions and moral in a tale gives way to misplaced expectations, thus the difficult initial reception towards the the film. These expactations keep viewers from simply receiving and seeing an original and fresh take on the subject. Garrone crosses the line, with unexpected violence, where we usually get a childlike fable of morality, safe for a family viewing. On the other hand, he’s not as dark and excessive as some could expect (and would love). With the path he choose, the most cynical could argue he doesn’t put the final nail into the coffin, trying to make the best of both worlds. Tale of Tales explores the invisible line between good and evil where moral is just a point of view and where nothing, either good or bad, happens as expected. Various things happen everyday to people in real life and even through all the magic and surreal elements, it does pretty much the same in Basile’s Kingdom.
The only major flaw in Tale of Tales is due to the mixed international casting, especially poor John C. Reiley. We all love his eternal puppy dog gaze, but his limited acting skills reach the bottom. He is not convincing in this.
Overall the look and feel of Tale of Tales is an achievement and trying to make the best of both worlds ( it should be viewed as such) is exactly what makes it as singular as it is appealing.