Bad Tales (4 stars)

Bad Tales

This cautionary story from the D'Innocenzo brothers finds children at the mercy of unhappy adults

Early on in this Italian-Swiss drama from Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo we are told, 'What follows was inspired by a true story. The true story was inspired by a lie. The lie is rather uninspired.' It's a playful introduction but the film that unfolds can be quite shocking; it finds children at the mercy of miserable adults, giving us a modern take on a fairytale or a twisted spin on the coming-of-ager, as carefree frolics are traded for apprehensiveness and confusion over a long, hot summer. It's a provocative and cautionary tale which won the D'Innocenzo brothers the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival.

There's just a touch of Fellini's Oscar-winning 1973 film Amarcord to the grotesque presentation of growing up, here it's against a backdrop of feckless pregnant women (specifically Ileana D'Ambra's Vilma) and bitter and leering middle-aged men. Bad Tales focuses on a handful of families living in Rome's rural suburbs, whose behaviour toward each other and their own children is appalling. One particular swine, Bruno (Elio Germano), has two academically outstanding kids (played by Tommaso Di Cola and Giulietta Rebeggiani) but unemployment has eroded his self-worth and he lets his temper overwhelm him.

It might take a less in-your-face approach than the controversial but well-intentioned Cuties, but Bad Tales still manages to examine the effect a sexualised culture and careless or stressed-out parenting has on the preoccupations and development of kids. The children here seem thoroughly done with life and they're not even teenagers, whilst they're employing their smarts in ways that suggest their parents' misanthropy has already rubbed off. Things do get very dark, and although this is an extreme spin on the subject, in the current climate particularly, there are some important takeaways. Showing how childhoods can be warped by anger and anxiety, it is a warning to us all.

Available to watch on MUBI from Thu 18 Feb.

Bad Tales

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • Italy
  • 1h 38min
  • Directed by: Damiano D'Innocenzo, Fabio D'Innocenzo
  • Written by: Damiano D'Innocenzo, Fabio D'Innocenzo
  • Cast: Elio Germano, Barbara Chichiarelli, Gabriel Montesi, Max Malatesta, Ileana D'Ambra, Lino Musella
  • UK release: 18 February 2021

In the suburbs of Rome, family tensions are at breaking point. Ultimately, it's the children who will finally bring it all crashing down.