Tale Of Tales reaction: Cannes 2015

This utterly barmy fantasy will easily be one of oddest films of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. It’s also shaping up to be an early contender for the fest’s prizes. Here’s Jordan Farley’s reaction…

Many were expecting greatness from Tale Of Tales, Matteo Garrone’s entry in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, but the last thing anyone expected from the director of gritty gangsters-and-garbage drama Gomorrah was a twisted fairytale featuring sea monsters, giant fleas and a hula-hooping bear. The unlikely pairing of celebrated director and mad-as-a-bag-of-cats subject matter has resulted in an early treat at the festival.

“Loosely” based on the works of 17th Century Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, this portmanteau film adaptation interweaves the fantastical stories of three neighbouring kings and their respective kingdoms. In Selvascura Salma Hayek’s barren Queen sends her husband (John C. Reilly) on a mission to magically grant her a child; in Roccaforte Vincent Cassel’s Casanova king unwittingly courts a crone (Shirley Henderson); and in Altomonte Toby Jones’s monarch raises a pet flea that grows to unlikely proportions, while his daughter Viola (Bebe Cave) demands to be married off to a courageous suitor.

Basile was hugely influential in shaping fairytale storytelling as we know it, everyone from the brothers Grimm to Walt Disney has been inspired by his works, but what’s surprising is that his stories feel so fresh. To say the darkly comic, often horrific, twists and turns are unexpected would be a gross understatement. The words “Happily Ever After” aren’t even part of the film’s vocabulary. It’s a film that trusts its audience to go along with its loosely defined, but entirely believable, world. There aren’t title cards telling you where you are, for example, and the rules of magic are left for you to work out. Garrone grounds the film with a deadpan tone and, along with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, captures some truly enchanting and sumptuous visuals.

The cast impresses across the board, Vincent Cassel perfect as the king who puts his crotch first, while Toby Jones’ proves remarkably adept at physical comedy in a role that’s half clown, half king. Cave’s Viola has perhaps the most interesting journey – imagine if Cinderella found herself in a slasher movie – and Salma Hayek does her best Cersei Lannister as the overprotective mother of Selvascura’s future king. Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous score notes special recognition too, treading the same fine line as the film between horror and jubilation, soaring to moving heights.

If there’s a problem it’s that the complex, interweaving structure often interrupts the flow of a tale at just the wrong junction, lingering on one segment for too long or departing from another far too soon. And we have no idea who Tale Of Tales is for because with unexpectedly gory violence, a Python-esque sense of the horrific and occasional nudity (usually played for laughs) it’s certainly not child friendly. But where certain films at the festival have already started to fade from memory Tale Of Tales is unlikely to vacate our synapses anytime soon.

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