Tale of Tales
by Sherif Awad
An international cast including Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones lead Tale of Tale, the first English-speaking film by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. The fantasy film is based on the Pentamerone (The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones), a collection of fairy tales by 17th century Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile. Four screenwriters collaborated on the script to create multiple storylines fused into one film. However, it isn’t clear for the viewer unless he is familiar with Basile's writer or with the synopsis of the film. And so, the film starts, once upon a time, in three neighboring kingdoms with wonderful castles and rich kings and queens.
Basil's works mixes between realism and fantasy, ordinary and extraordinary, reality and magic. The stories chosen by the filmmakers to make it on the screen discuss some of the contemporary obsessions: the strong desire of youth and beauty, a mother desperate to have a son, the conflict between generations and the violence faced by women.
The first story revolves around the King of Longtrellis (John C. Reilly) and his wife (Salma Hayek), a couple who have difficulty having a child. One day, they are visited by an old magician who tips the king to go and kill a sea monster for the queen to eat its heart and so she immediately becomes pregnant. However, the king faces his own death after killing the monster and although the queen has a baby, the virgin who cooked the heart for her has also a child. The two young men, who look like twins, grew up only to become inseparable to the anger of the queen. In the neighboring kingdom of Strongcliff, the king (Vincent Cassel) is a womanizer who falls in love with Dora, a poor woman after hearing her singing without taking a good look at her. For many nights, he tries to convince her to visit him in his bed without knowing she is quite an old woman living with her older sister. With the help of a lady magician in the forest, Dora finds her youth again. In the third kingdom of Highhills, the king (Toby Jones), who is obsessed in raising a giant insect, tries to find the right husband for his educated daughter princess. The daughter becomes the victim of an ogre who kidnaps her to his hidden cave.
Director Matteo Garrone succeeds in staging the three stories in an intertwining well-structured order to keep the viewer curious in subsequent events. The sets and the scenery is beautiful, with many worm colors highlighting the landscapes and the decor. Most of the special effects featuring the sea monster and the insects are realized through animatronics, which proves how European techniques are escalading to reach the Hollywood studios' qualities nowadays. Garrone should think of coming to America to realize his next fantasy film like Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.