The concept of happily ever after is tweaked in Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales. The movie is a finely woven anthology of three narratives adapted from Giambattista Basile’s Neapolitan fairy tales. The first story centers on a queen (Salma Hayek) struggling to bear an heir. After consulting a dark magician, her husband (John C. Reilly) goes to fantastical lengths, diving underwater to slay a sea beast, to enable his wife to bear a child. In another part of the kingdom, a lascivious ruler (Vincent Cassel) falls in love with a crone upon hearing her sing from afar. And yet in another part of the kingdom, a king (Toby Jones), though he has a daughter (Bebe Cave), becomes lovingly obsessed with a flea that he raises. Yes, a flea. However bizarre these stories are, they do not tonally lapse into preciousness, kookiness, or twee. Instead, Tale of Tales is suffused with some absurdist humor and a feeling of impending doom, signaling the precarious randomness of life. The production design and art direction, the costumes and makeup, and the magical score (Alexandre Desplat) spirit us away.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White