Have you been thinking to yourself lately, what I need in my life is Salma Hayek dressed as a queen eating a sea serpent’s heart? Or, wondered what Vincent Cassel would look like sucking old women’s fingers and engaging in orgies? If, like me, the answer to those questions is a resounding yes, then this film is for you. Matteo Garrone, who directed the excellent mafia movie Gomorrah in 2008, wanted to bring us the gory, adult, fairy tale world of Giambattista Basile; and so we have the film Tale of Tales. This a loose interpretation of some of those stories threaded together to create a bizarre amalgamation of romance, horror, sorcery, and fable, that is simultaneously gorgeous, astonishing and baffling.
Three stories about three kings are twisted together to present this world. The first is about the King and Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayak, John C. Reilly) who can’t have children and the heart breaking sacrifices they make. The second, The King of Highhills (Toby Jones) becomes obsessed with a giant flea and weds his daughter to an Ogre; a la Shrek but with slightly more sexual violence; and finally The King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) and his Cyrano de Bergarcesque relationship with an old crone who he believes to be a beautiful woman.
All of these stories are interesting at face value and painted beautifully both in lavish costuming and breath-taking cinematography. It may seem like the natural decision would be an anthology, yet Garrone twists the stories together bouncing from location to location letting the entire film play out to one satisfying thematic conclusion that ties the stories together without need for a cheesy wrap around story that would feel forced and detract from the depth of the world. However, the drawback to this choice is evident and persistent on screen early in the run time.
Many will find these stories hard to submerse themselves in as the whole project may be too strange for certain tastes. What ties all these stories together isn’t evident until well past the hour and half mark (yes this film is over 2 hours long) making for what may seem like a gargantuan mess, albeit a beautiful one until it all comes together in the end.
Yet, if you have the appetite for a unique, beautifully crafted fantasy horror fairy-tale and can stomach the patience necessary Tale of Tales is worth your time.