Tale of Tales. Review by Jane McChrystal.
Matteo Garrone’s latest film has been warmly received by critics. It is a retelling of some of Giambattista Basile’s 16th Century, Neapolitan fairy tales which formed the source material for many of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ stories. It has been praised for its use of spectacular locations such as the Castel Del Monte in the Abruzzo and the stone maze at the palace of Donnafugata in Sicily. Toby Jones, Bebe Cave and Salma Hayek have been singled out for their performances as a jealous royal father, a defiant princess, and a queen who will do anything to keep her son close. They embody one of the film’s key themes: the damage done by jealous, possessive parents who cannot let go of their children as they reach adulthood.
When I saw it at our local Everyman last week there were four other people in the audience.
I was expecting a dark and savage tale involving a sea monster, an ogre and a gigantic flea, but was mainly drawn to the film by its visual qualities, created by Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography and the use of hand-crafted sets and models in preference to computer -generated effects.
My expectations were met, but I was also surprised to be absorbed by a film lasting around two and a quarter hours. I can rarely sit through a work of this length without becoming distracted by chronic back pain, knocking over my peanuts or making plans for tomorrow’s dinner.
Parental obsession provides the motor for the intertwining plots, but they are driven on by stories of loyalty, devotion and treachery played out by two pairs of siblings. Characters who deceive themselves or others unleash catastrophe for those around them especially when they’re blinded by love or lust.
There is humour along the way. Vincent Cassel does an effective comic turn as a king drawn by the singing voice of one he pictures as a beautiful, young girl and is reduced to whispering blandishments with implied threats through the keyhole of a hovel occupied by a woman very different to the one in his imagination.
Above all I enjoyed the way Garrone played with the fate of fairytale characters who are usually punished or rewarded according to their virtuousness or wickedness. As you might expect from the director of Gomorra, the world presented here is entirely cruel and arbitrary. Justice is meted out randomly to characters whose behaviour can’t necessarily be predicted from the way they would act within the traditional fairy tale narrative. A moment of tenderness shown by the ogre to a princess does him no good at all.
So, while people queue up to see this summer’s blockbuster, a re-tread of Independence Day, which first appeared in 1996, I’m hoping Tale of Tales will reach the audience it deserves, one which appreciates nuance and beauty as well as the enjoyment of terror and thrills.
Jane McChrystal © 2016.