Tale of Tales (2 stars)

Cannes: Tale of Tales

Salma Hayek tucks into a meaty role

Cannes 2015: Eccentric, sprawling fairytale hodgepodge from Matteo Garrone

You cannot accuse Italian director Matteo Garrone of playing it safe. He followed his 2008 international breakthrough crime thriller Gomorrah with an old-fashioned satire of reality television’s fatal attraction in 2012's Reality. Now, he offers a loose interpretation of the 17th century Neapolitan fairytales of Giambattista Basile in Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti).

We are deep in 'Once upon a time' territory with a series of stories that unfold in three neighbouring kingdoms. There are thematic connections in the strained relations between the generations and unexpected attachments that rewrite the rules of more traditional 'Beauty and the Beast' encounters. In Selvascura, the Queen (Salma Hayek) will do anything for her heart’s desire of having a child. In Altamonte, the King (Toby Jones) is fascinated by a flea that he secretly rears. In Roccaforte, the monarch (Vincent Cassel) is besotted by the angelic voice of what he assumes is a young woman possessed of a beauty greater than any he might possibly imagine. In every case, there is a price to pay for their obsessions and reckless desires.

As it travels through a world of cave-dwelling ogres and deep sea monsters, scary creatures and magical spells, Tale of Tales often looks a treat. Garrone uses some spectacular locations and fills the screen with vibrant colours and grotesque characters. A fine cast, that also includes a touching Shirley Henderson and a brief appearance from John C Reilly, give committed performances that help to keep you engaged. Yet the film is fatally undone but a lack of cohesion; there is little rhyme or reason to what happens as we randomly flit between the three kingdoms and alight upon enough stories and loose-ends to fill countless bedtimes. The result is an eccentric, sprawling hodgepodge of Chaucer, the Brothers Grimm and Tolkien, with a dash of Terry Gilliam thrown in for good measure. It is enchanting in parts but falls far short of becoming their sum.

Screening as part of Cannes 2015. General release TBC.

Tale of Tales

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • Italy / France / UK
  • 2h 5min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Matteo Garrone
  • Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones

Sprawling interpretations of 17th century Neapolitan fairytales, with stories unfolding in three neighbouring kingdoms. Visually spectacular and with a fine cast (Hayek, Jones, Cassel) giving committed performances, it's undone by a lack of cohesion and ends up less than the sum of its parts.