First off, who could resist the extravagant period costuming and set pieces lit to mimic the works of Italian Baroque painters? But Garrone also works in surrealist elements for a more contemporary feel. John C. Reilly as the hero King of Longtrellis killing a serpent for his wife has the look of a dusty Wes Anderson scene and the sound design of a monster movie. Salma Hayek as the Queen of Longtrellis, in a stark white room, methodically devouring the serpent's giant heart, could be a Marina Abramovic performance piece.
As for that
The story spirals out from there, intertwining the trials of the
For all the great performances in this ensemble cast, Toby
As this royal family butts heads and goes on separate paths to fight their own demons, they become the most transformative characters in the film. The princess endures a particularly heart-wrenching odyssey as she’s held captive on a mountainside by her ogre husband. Cave plays the absurd situation artfully, a pendulum of emotion swinging back and forth until the story’s satisfying end.
At times, the action is truly thrilling, a marriage of practical effects and the mentality that anything can happen. The sets seem purposefully theatrical, the set pieces like lavish stage shows, scary in the same ways early Jim Henson works such as The Storyteller or The Labyrinth were scary, but an inch further over the line into gruesome. The wry sense of humor of Garrone and the source material, where nobody is all good or evil, makes everyone a target for some comic comeuppance.
All this is to say, Tale of Tales has the makings of a cult classic, but not exactly a box office success. Mainstream adaptations of fairy tales are generally manipulated to fit Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” as if it’s the only way to write a story (spoiler: The Little Mermaid kills herself in the original), but Jan Švankmajer’s trippy adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — Alice — proves a fairy tale can diverge from the path and be just as, if not more, thrilling. It’s worth noting that the fairy tales in Garrone’s film were all originally created by women but recorded and added to by men, which may or may not play into the story arcs, which have been classified as variations of the Feminine Journey, i.e. a slow self-destruction of the protagonist, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, rebirth. The characters on the Feminine Journey usually realize they don’t fit into their old world, and this type of arc doesn’t lend itself to moral platitudes: Don’t expect many lessons here.
Do expect, however, to be dazzled by lush cinematography, top-notch acting and some shocking turns. Tale of Tales is the most faithful and creatively rendered fairy tale