Writer: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso (screenplay), Giambattista Basile
Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, Bebe Cave, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Christian Lee, Jonah Lees, John C. Reilly
Running time: 133mins
What’s the story: In three neighbouring mystical kingdoms, a queen wrestles with her willful, supernaturally born son, a king’s attempt to find a suitor for his daughter goes monstrously awry and two aged sisters attract the attention of another lusty sire.
What’s the verdict: Director Matteo Garrone is still best known internationally for his masterly gangster epic Gomorrah. While that film had a gallery of grotesques, for his first English language film he has delivered an equally grotesque, but sumptuous feast of imagination and gorgeous visuals, played to perfection and laced with dark, ironic Aesop’s Fable humour.
Loosely based on the fanciful 16th century stories of Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, Tale of Tales is a triumph of fairy tale anti-logic. A land where eating the heart of a sea monster results in a barren queen (Hayek) giving birth within 24 hours and where a king besotted with a flea (Jones) nurses it to a size way beyond normal. But, Garrone and his three co-screenwriters sell the world they’ve created as real as Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth or HBO’s Westeros, and the joy comes in watching what magic the film will conjure up next.
Terry Gilliam’s movies are close kissing cousins, but Garrone’s film most closely resembles the unforgettable phantasmagorias of Walerian (Immoral Tales) Borowczyk and Alejandro (Santa Sangre) Jodorowsky. Empire Strikes Back director of photography Peter Suschitzky ensures the director’s vision comes to life through visuals resembling a gallery of gorgeous, moving paintings.
None of this would work without a committed cast, and Tale of Tale’s players breathe believable life into unbelievable characters. Hayek, whose ageless beauty is the stuff of fairy tales itself, brings brushstroke joy and pathos to her role as a queen whose son will not sever the bond between him and his equally supernaturally born peasant brother (Christian Lees and Jonah Lees respectively).
Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael sit on the right side of pantomime as the crone siblings forced to handle the deluded desires of Cassel’s wolf-eyed king, and Toby Jones is equally playful as a feckless monarch whose devoted daughter means less to him than his pet flea.
But, it is Bebe Cave as the neglected daughter, accidentally locked into a monstrous marriage, who impresses most. Going on a traditional storybook journey of obstacles and self-discovery, her adventure is thrilling, funny, violent and topped off with a striking punchline.
The fairytale movie Into The Woods tried but failed to be, Tale of Tales is Harry Potter for grown-ups and casts a far more powerful spell.
DVD Review: A fine DVD transfer, but for a film as visually sumptuous as this Blu-ray is the only way to go.
DVD extras are three sizeable interviews with director and co-writer Matteo Garrone and stars Salma Hayek and Toby Jones. Best of these is Garrone’s interview, discussing why he wanted to bring the classic fairy tales to the big screen, visual inspirations (cult film fans will appreciate a shout-out to classic horror director Mario Bava) and where this film fits into his previous work. While worthwhile, it makes you crave for an audio commentary with Garrone and his cast and crew to fully explore the production of this knockout movie.
Salma Hayek and Toby Jones both talk about how great it was to work with Garrone and also how much trust they had to place in the director to trust the finished result would be astonishing. Again, an audio commentary would have been great here.
On DVD, the only other extra is the film’s trailer, which does a good job of selling Tale of Tales’ tone and flavour. Blu-ray has a making-of featurette. While not present on the review disc, any behind-the-scenes footage is to be snapped up. Another reason Blu-ray is the way to go with this spellbinder.