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Flamboyant Fairytale: Matteo Garrone’s Tale Of Tales (2015) – Blu-ray review

August 4, 2016 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

A typically flamboyant take on Italian fairytales which, despite its copious FX, places its trust in old-school virtues of extravagant design and OTT acting.

1 Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales
(Matteo Garrone, 2015)

Italian cinema has the reputation for being all about neo-realism and street tales of everyday folk, but there’s also a long tradition of fairytale flamboyance, as directors look back to the mythic heritage of their ancestors’ storytelling.  Fellini filmed Petronius’ Satyricon, Pasolini tackled Boccaccio’s The Decameron and here Matteo Garrone has a go at Giambattista Basile’s 16th century Tale Of Tales.

Garrone, of course, is famous for his grounded gangster epic Gomorrah but here sails into the realm of fantasy with remarkable aplomb.  It’s a film of visual grandeur and narrative excess, clearly intent on winning the award for “what mad thing can we show next?”  Within fifteen minutes, John C. Reilly has fought a sea monster and Salma Hayek has eaten its heart in order to give birth.  By the end, those events seem relatively restrained.

It’s a gorgeous, Gothic storyworld, a medieval land of stupendous clifftop castles, ogres and witches.  The cinematography by Peter Suschitzsky brings out the bling in the ornate costumes but is steeped in blood – a reminder that Suschitzsky is Cronenberg’s go-to cameraman.  Meanwhile, Alexandre Desplat’s score circles and circumvents the splendour with scornful, sing-song melodies.  Between them, the sound and visuals convey Garrone’s ironic, adult’s eye view of childlike fables.

Garrone doesn’t push home 21st century parallels; the stories stand as deliberately timeless parables of hubris, power and lust.  Given the generally political nature of Italian cinema – not least Garrone’s previous films – that could be regarded as a flaw, especially given the fact that this is an English-language, international co-production.  That often means compromise… but here it gels into something different but just as rewarding.

With its eclectic cast and the emphasis on practical creative FX, it resembles nothing so much as a Terry Gilliam film – deploying fantasy as allegory and trusting the audience to provide deeper meanings.  That leaves the pleasure of seeing how Garrone mounts the madness, giving room for the actors to have fun.  While typically full-blooded, the showier names like Hayek and Vincent Cassel are, surprisingly, minor players to a backbone of relatively unknown Brits.  Toby Jones is the most famous, having a ball in a very Jonathan Pryce-esque performance as a king besotted by a flea – but the breakout star is his on-screen daughter, Bebe Cave, who rises to the challenge of handling the film’s action climax.

Tale of Tales is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 8th August.


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