TALE OF TALES is an Italian production of three “fairy tales” originally written in a collection by 16th Century Italian poet and author Giambattista Basile. His original work, Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, told 49 tales woven together within a 50th of his own, was published posthumously by his sister in two volumes in 1634 and 1636. Many of the stories were later adapted by the Famous Brothers Grimm. Far from lighthearted good natured children’s stories (even though his original title contained the phrase “Entertainment for Little Ones”), these are dark, foreboding fables which would apparently lend themselves to the big screen magnificently and fill it mystery, fear and wonderment. Miraculously, that is not what happened.
I am on a lifelong quest to get to the heart of the problem of when good movies with great promise go bad, and I am sorely disappointed that TALE OF TALES falls in that category. The material itself is so rich with imagery and fantasy and is accessible, and yet…it is mired in such lethargy it is downright soporific. The stories are visually vivid and opulent, gorgeous in some scenes, and yet the movie as a whole is utterly lifeless.
The film has a more than capable cast with the accomplished talents of Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassel, and was filmed in Tuscany which, as a location, is hard to beat when it comes to scenic splendor. Hayek and Reilly play Queen and King Longtrellis who hunger for a child but are unable to conceive. A dark sorcerer comes to them with a solution requiring the King to kill a conveniently located and astoundingly lethargic sea monster and have the Queen eat its still beating heart. The King of Highhills (Toby Jones), father to a lovely, eligible and bored daughter (Bebe Cave), finds a flea on his clothes and keeps it as a secret pet, growing it to Great Dane-like proportions. Vincent Cassel is the wildly hedonistic and saucy King of Strongcliffs who does not appear to do much ruling but does a great deal of shagging in elaborate settings. Strolling through his kingdom one day he is entranced by a maiden’s song and will stop at nothing to fully possess its owner. All three tales are united by obsession; Obsessions which will sacrifice anything to attain their goal and victimize anyone in their path.
The tales are fascinating on paper but lack any power or magic on the screen. The dialogue is not in keeping stylistically with the era and due to that feels inauthentic and silly while also being generally uninspired. While the art direction of the film is breathtaking, the cinematography by notable Director of Photography Peter Suschitzky is completely lackluster. With so much sumptuous texture and such numerous fantastical elements to work with it is astounding how flat the film feels. Matteo Garrone’s direction is uneven and indolent. There is no dramatic tension, no varying rhythm or pace at all and it tragically makes TALE OF TALES plod along for an interminable 133 minutes. There are moments of visual beauty especially in the thread with Queen Longtrellis – a unifying color scheme of red, white and black is so enchanting that it almost distracts you from your lack of engagement with the characters. Additionally, if one crafts a movie with three threads it would figure that they will, at some point, intertwine in a meaningful way. Nothing of the sort happens here aside from a brief glimpse of the main characters in each others’ stories. I hate a waste of good talent and ideas but in the spirit of the glass being half-full rather than empty, TALE OF TALES will put you to sleep faster than an Ambien.(2 / 5)
Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson, Bebe Cave
Rating: No rating but contains sexy bits, nudity, brutality and copious amounts of blood
Running Time: minutes
TALE OF TALES Movie Review