Fairy tales have become part of the all-consuming Hollywood nostalgia machine. Along with every beloved franchise and V/H/S tape you ever grew up with. Disney knows this better then anyone. With their recent live action remakes of classic animated tall tales like Cinderella, they are selling your childhood back to you one goosebump at a time. Tale of Tales may look and sound like one of those films. It may even share similar source material to one of those films. But it isn’t your childhood come back to hug you, it’s your childhood come back to haunt you.

Adapted from seventeenth century poet Giambattista Basile’s collection of European folktales. Tale of Tales is the fable of three kingdoms, each with their own separate stories that weave in and out of each other throughout the film. A queen longing to have a child, a king lusting after a mysterious beauty and a Princess who dreams of her prince. Also there’s a massive steak-eating flee. Many of these characters never meet, their narratives in isolation from each other, but it’s the world they inhabit that connects them.

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Director Matteo Garrone has crafted a world that feels so familiar to us, yet so alien. Taking the traditional children’s tale into the dark depths of violence, sex and the twisted side of human nature. The result is bizarre, whimsical, grotesque and even at times very funny. It’s also one of the most beautiful cinematic worlds in recent memory. The costumes, sets and creatures remind of the adventure films of Georges Melies, while the colours and atmosphere evoke the paintings of John Everett Millais. It’s a unique world unlike much else in film.

What really makes us buy into this juxtaposed world is the flawless ensemble cast. Every character feels as if they have been conjured from the words of a bedtime story. But under that charming simplicity are deep, mortally complex performances, thus making real people out of these fairytale archetypes. Special mentions should go to Selma Hayek, Toby Jones and newcomer Bebe Cave.

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If there’s a weak link it’s perhaps how the three stories come together to create the structure of one film. At times no tension is build in one story in order to justify a cut to another, which gives the middle sections of a film a somewhat sluggish pace. For some this could lead to boredom but, then again, this film is like sinking into a pool, not jumping off a waterfall. It’s in the film’s immersion that it really comes to life, you just have to open yourself up to its initial strangeness.

It’s once fully immersed in the film’s bizarre nature that it truly surprises with how real its characters and there struggles felt. Throwing these Kings and Queens that we know so well from child’s literature into a uncaring world that isn’t interested in their preordained and well worn character arcs. Garrone is looking at our world through a kaleidoscope of tales we have told ourselves for centuries, showing us that the stories we tell will always be reflections of our own world, no matter how fantastical.

4/5
Dir: Matteo Garrone
Scr: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson
Prod: Matteo Garrone, Anne Labadie, Jeremy Thomas
Country: Italy
Runtime: 133 min

Tale of Tales is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.