The origins of many popular fairy tales are far more menacing and monstrous than Disney would lead you to believe in fact Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm have an altogether more, well grim telling to these tall stories we all learn early on in life from our bedtime books.
The three famous authors of children’s stories where in fact inspired by a seventeenth-century Baroque fairy tale collection named Pentamerone by Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile also known as Entertainment for Little Ones or The Tale of Tales.
Director Matteo Garrone’s film is loosely based on some of the stories from this rich collection and shares the same blend of dark and disturbing images and ideas weaving together three different tales with a blend of fantasy, horror, sex and magic.
Titled The Queen, The Flea and The Two Old Women the film jumps between the characters and their trials and tribulations which involve a Queen who will do anything to bear a child, a King who cares more for his pet flea than his own daughter and two hideous old crones one of which becomes the object of desire for a lust filled ruler who is entranced by her youthful voice.
Wonderfully set up each section looks like it will evolve in a certain traditional way however Garrone and screenwriters Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso great trick is that nothing is what it seems and the morality tales twist and turn ultimately offering far more complex conundrums for the viewer to personally unravel and understand rather than a simple good vs evil endings for all.
This technique will perhaps frustrate some viewers looking for a straightforward story however those willing to open themselves up to the experience will be greatly rewarded as the reoccurring themes of parents and children, desire and disgust, rich and poor and life and death intertwine again and again becoming enriched each time, all payed out over stunning and sublime imagery.
Full of giant monsters, ornate castles, lush forests and bustling citadels Tale of Tales is a film that you could almost pause at any moment and have a work of art so drenched is it in outstanding visuals, magnificent landscapes, evocative special effects and sensational set designs.
The eclectic cast are also brilliant with Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly as the childless Queen and King of Longtrellis, Toby Jones as the monster flea owning King of Highhills and Vincent Casselas the sex obsessed King of Strongcliff backed up by great turns from the rest of the supporting players.
Twisted, gory and most defiantly not for children Tale of Tales shows that grown up fairy tales do exist and not only are they compelling and captivating but we can learn an awful lot about ourselves from them too.