Inspired by the collected fairytales of Giambattista Basile – from the 1630s and much more famous on the Continent – Matteo ‘Gomorrah’ Garrone’s film is wonderfully overblown.
It starts with the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) who forfeits the life of her husband (John C. Reilly) in an attempt to have a child; before moving on to the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) who becomes obsessed with a giant flea – which in turn leads to heartbreak for his young daughter. Then there are the two spinster sisters who provoke the passion of the King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) – again with tragic, repulsive outcomes.
Basile’s tales contain the earliest versions of stories like Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – and this gives you some idea of the traditional and un-sanitised nature of the tales told in Tale of Tales. If you’re expecting ‘traditional’ to mean ‘child-friendly’ you will be shocked: the film embraces the excessive cruelties of pre-Victorian fairy tales and delves deep into realms of horror-fantasy.
The film works better in parts. The most operatic and richly visualised images are the best; cosied up with lurid ‘grand guignol’ aspects, they make a winning combination. These elements look how you’d expect a cruel fairytale to look, with sharply contrasting colours against more neutral backgrounds.
Garrone and his creative team should have stuck to their guns and gone with the signature weird and wonderful visual stylings – and the nastiness – without pandering to multiplex tastes.
Review by Colin Dibben