Tale of Tales (2015)
I’ve been looking out for this film since it was on the festival circuit last year, the idea of fairy tales just for adults was a refreshing change from the Disney ones I’ve been reared on.Wanting something different and more exciting than princesses and dragons etc. Tale of Tales (2015) is just that, three fairy tales with an even darker tone than the average we all know and tell the kids when they are growing up. Used as cautionary tales the three retold here are very much in the same vein just not for the minds of screaming kids who love a good scare but nothing as dark as this.
I initially thought that the three tale’s would be told separately not cutting from one to the other, which takes some getting used to. We begin with the King and Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly) who are having fertility problems, the Queen very much longing for a child turns to a soothsayer who is able to give them both a task that will ensure that she falls pregnant the same day. Of course going to a soothsayer comes at a cost. As much as I.V.F. comes at a cost both financially and emotionally until it hopefully produces the baby they have been waiting for. In this fairy tale world it means slaying a river monster (see the poster) and eating its heart.
A creature that was actually on set, filmed, cut open, yes no CGI’s used in that sequence which makes it all the more engaging. The mise-en-scene is more authentic for the inclusion of a creature in this make-believe world that requires that. It maybe be rubber but at least it’s there, It would have cost less than half as much to produce for the few scenes it was in. It has more physical weight, after seeing films where CGI has become weightless in recent years.
There is a little CGI in the film and I really can’t emphasise that, used only a giant flee in other of the tales that see’s King of Highhills (Toby Jones) find a new pet, a flea that occupies his time and adoration over his daughter who starts to feel ignored at a time in her life when she should be looking for a prince to marry. Instead he is more concerned with a flea that he keeps secretly as a pet, it grows to the point that we have a small CGI then a rubber one before the actor. Which is another bonus of having the physical with him on set, having something to work opposite, as much as it was a puppet you get a more immediate response. I’m reminded of The NeverEnding Story (1984) which like many fantasy films of the decade relied on puppets, mostly Jim Henson’s to bring to life these fantastical characters. Of course that’s a children’s film, however the children have something to respond to, and the audience can also relate to, almost like the any toys they may have, its more relatable at the end of the day.
Going back to the King of Highhills fixation with the flea it blinds his judgement, ultimately putting his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) in danger when her suitor is finally chosen for her, leading to a darker more realistic version of Shrek (2001) which itself successfully parodied the fairy tale genre. Here its more a serious dark comedy that shows how far we can go to get what we want. As we see in the third tale when King of Strongcliff’s (Vincent Cassel) wandering ear picks up the song of a goddess he cannot help but fall under her spell. However the spell is one that only we know the truth about, as two elderly women live in that house of sister’s Imma and Dora (Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael) who wont pass up the opportunity to feel young again. They wont loose the attention of the king and a chance to sleep with him, ensuring it happens at all costs. A tale a vanity and the expense that we go to stay young. Also the other side of how women are perceived in the male gaze. We see the lengths both sisters go to stay young, and it’s not pleasant to watch, I can tell you to. It’s comically awkward to see the lengths they go to pull off a night in the royal chambers.
Without going into much more detail about these three tales that run alongside each other in this European fantasy world where royalty is still much respected. Taking three modern tales from Italian folk-lore which still resonate today just shows how universal and relevant fairy tales from any country truly are. It’s a film that doesn’t rely on dialogue to move the strands forward, they can go whole scenes at a time without a line between characters, maybe a scream or two adding to the scale of this film that could go on far longer, interweave a few more tales which only touch each other twice, at the beginning and the end. They share the same world peacefully, bringing together what has happened. It was confusing to see all of them at first, it made little sense to bring them together with no real explanation. It took a few visits back and forth to realise they are not in the same strand of the film, that’s the only real flaw to a film that is delightfully dark.