Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In the dark, delicious fairy TALE OF TALES, Matteo Garrone comes through once again

Are you a fan of the kind of fairy tales that don't have a Disney happy ending but rather explore the darker recesses of human nature, along with the results that go with those recesses? If so, you won't want to miss a major surprise from Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone (shown below), who earlier gave us Gomorrah, Reality, First Love and The Embalmer. Maybe I oughtn't call TALE OF TALES (Il racconto dei racconti) a surprise, since it is every bit as dark -- spirited, imaginative and thrilling -- as the rest of Garrone's oeuvre. But who'd have thought the filmmaker would decide to explore fairy tales?

TrustMovies will be eternally grateful that he did, however, for his addition to the genre proves as good as, and very likely better than just about anything else you can name. As sumptuous and beautiful as a fairy tale demands, the movie also manages to look both "period" and "real" (something that, say, the recent Disney Cinderella, despite being quite lightly enjoyable, never managed). Tale of Tales is consistently eye-popping, and this makes it seems utterly exotic when compared to others in its genre. The movie has everything: terrific stories, amazing beauty, a tricky but genuine morality, and some really great monsters, too. This must be the biggest budget Garrone has yet had to play with and, by god, he makes the most of it. The movie is lavish, all right, yet it never seems wasteful.

Among the many Italians on view (yes, Alba Rohrwacher's here!), the movie sports an international cast to die for: Mexico's Salma Hayek (above), France's Vincent Cassel (below, center, with Stacy Martin) and Britain's Toby Jones (two photos below) --  all playing the kind of entitled royalty that hasn't a clue how to care for anyone other than themselves, including, unfortunately, treasured family members.

These "royalty" stories, while separate, are entwined via the theme of justice served (one way or another), as Garrone bounces back and forth between the tales with high energy and great elan. His stories are taken from the work of the 16th-Century Italian, Giambattista Basile, who did for Italian fairy tales what Charles Perrault did for French and the Grimm Brothers for German -- but Basile did it first. And the fact that we are nowhere near as familiar with Basile's tales as we are with the Grimms' or Perrault's makes them seem all the more entrancing and special.

We don't know the outcomes here, and there are a number of surprises along the way, each of them dished up rather spectacularly. The "special effects" are as good as you could imagine, while the "monsters" are especially creative -- particularly the rather adorable "giant flea."

All the tales are dark, cunning, amazing and often funny, but the best probably belongs to the daughter (a fine performance by Bebe Cave, above, right) of the king played by Mr. Jones, who, thanks to that flea and her father's selfishness, finds herself wedded to an ogre (Guillaume Delaunay, above, left). Their final scene together is sad, stern and rigorously unsentimental -- something that can be said about all of Garrone's work, it seems to me.

So, should you take the kids to see Tale of Tales (it's in English; there are no subtitles to rankle)? That depends on how willing you'll be to discuss the movie afterwards. (There'll be a lot to talk about.) If those kids are thoughtful, intelligent and aged maybe 8 or 10 or beyond, I'd say, sure. It's a film that they -- you, too -- are likely to remember and even think about for quite some time. (That's John C. Reilly, below, left, playing the one member of royalty who does the right thing -- and pays for it. There's always a price to be paid, as one character points out early on.)

From Sundance Selects/IFC Films and running 133 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, April 22, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and on Friday, April 29, in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica Film Center. Elsewhere? Sure hope so. A film this spectacular and special deserves to be seen on the big screen. But if you don't live near any major cultural capital, be assured that Tale of Tales will appear on VOD simultaneously with its theatrical release.

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