Sunday, 26 June 2016

Review: Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales (aka Il Racconto Dei Racconti)
Cert: 15 / 134 mins / Dir. Matteo Garrone / Trailer

When Salma Hayek eating the red, boiled heart of a sea-monster with her bare hands isn't the weirdest thing in a film, you're in for some fun. Matteo Garrone brings us a loosely interwoven trio of medieval Italian folk tales set in the three neighbouring kingdoms. In one, Toby Jones falls in love with a flea the size of a small cow and uses similar judgement to choose a suitor for his daughter, meanwhile John C. Reilly slays the above-mentioned serpent so that his barren wife can conceive a child (again, what could go wrong?), as the randy-royal Vincent Cassel fails to keep it in his pants, inadvertently seducing one of the village-crones and leaving her emotionally-stunted sister in a precarious state-of-mind…

While Tale of Tales probably isn't a film to wander into blindly, the best approach will be to take in as little baggage as possible and just let yourself be told a story (or three). Even my brain spent the first twenty minutes or so shouting down the small voice pointing out "how would that happen?" before finally slipping into gear. And it's worth noting that the stories on offer here aren't quirkily-gothic fairy tales, nor are they the judicially-harsh morality lessons you'd expect of the format. They're just weird. Pro-level weird. Making Tim Burton's kookiness look like Coronation Street, weird. You might laugh, you might squirm (spoiler: you'll do both), but you won't be able to look away*1. I should also point out that despite my usage of the Italian title at the top of this post, the film is English-language. I know not everyone's a fan of subtitles, so if that was potentially putting you off then it won't be a problem here.

The film is utterly enthralling, in an often jaw-dropping sort of way (the borderline code-breaking winces, gasps and guffaws of the couple next to me served as a fair barometer of the mood in the room). And given how outlandish the content is, the cast's performance is amazing; never even approaching the grotesque pantomime it would become in the hands of many other directors. Garrone has his actors on a tight leash, but it still doesn't restrict their abilities. Similarly, Alexandre Desplat's score and Peter Suschitzky's cinematography are quietly overwhelming, complementing Garrone's work perfectly.

In fact, my only slight gripes are that while the stories are presented in a staggered format (rather than a linear portmanteau series), the balancing often feels a little uneven. The natural breaks in each tale, where you'd switch to the next chapter of another, seem erratic and sometimes just too far apart. And one of the three also seems to run out of steam rather than have an actual ending, but as I said, these aren't your run-of-the-mill fairy tales.

A thing of often terrifying beauty, Tale of Tales will leave you stunned through the meticulously rendered end-credits as your brain tries to process what it's just witnessed. There's far more than what's on the surface, but it'll get more intense the deeper you go…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
There's a bit of Jabberwocky in there as well as A Field In England.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you can, yes. Just to be amused by the reactions of your fellow patrons (and that's a mutual experience, I assure you).

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got Vincent Cassel in it, and he was in that Black Swan with Natalie 'Padmé' Portman.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
That's a very strong 6, but frankly I was too freaked out for it to be a 7 and I'll probably only watch the film again once just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating half of what happened…

*1 Unless you're the patron who walked out after about an hour. And in a film like this one I understand that reaction, but I am amazed it took so long. The sea-monster heart is in the first fifteen minutes, after all. But because of the format, that cinematic evacuee doesn't know how any of the stories end. Imagine that. Well, I suppose they'll have to…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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