Tale of Tales, the latest film from Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone, may have been inspired by fairytales, but is very much not for children. It winds together three loosely connected stories, bringing a touch of mischief and danger to familiar fairytale story tropes.
The stories are entwined together in a way which suggests they are more interconnected than they really are, but despite the slightly convoluted structure, the three narratives are clear. We begin in Darkwood, where the Queen’s (Salma Hayek) desperation for a child drives her to seek help from a mysterious stranger; then on to Highhills, where the King (Toby Jones) pays more attention to his disgusting pet flea than to his daughter (Bebe Cave) and finally Stronghold, where the promiscuous King (Vincent Cassel) becomes enchanted by the voice of a pauper in his city.
I enjoyed the film’s weirdness – its desire to play with its characters, to subvert expectations, and to fill the narrative with intrigue. And indeed its willingness to be dark: the sight of a an woman, skin flayed from her bones, staggering towards a palace, is not easily forgotten. Garrone and his cinematographer Peter Suschitzky have created a rich world in which to enjoy these narratives, and there is a pleasing reliance on practical effects.
In many ways it’s a strange film. I was rapt by, but also distant from it, perhaps because the stories, while fun in their own playful ways, ultimately promise more than they deliver. There are good performances in here, in particular from Cave as a captive princess, but while the result is tonally satisfying, there isn’t a great deal more to it than surface. I found myself wondering what the connections between the stories might be or, in the absence of such connections, what the themes would turn out to be, and in that respect I was frustrated, because the film didn’t deal with much more than its basic narratives. It’s perhaps a result of the film’s structure and length that I found myself looking for crossovers that weren’t really there.
Where the stories are united, though, is in their stran geness and arresting visuals. In that sense, the film certainly has an identity of its own, and those in search of a fairytale oddity will find much to enjoy in Tale of Tales.