Tale of Tales – Movie Review

Genre – Adult Fantasy/Horror
Length – 2hr 14mins
Released in – 2015
My Overall Grading – 4 Stars

Tale of Tales (2015) is that blend of gothic fantasy weirdness which usually immediately catches my attention. As soon as I watched its suggestive atmospheric trailer, I craved to behold the whole movie, and I must say, I wasn’t disappointed.

Let me say this first and foremost – if you’re expecting yet another re-imagining of some popular children’s fairytale like Cinderella or Snow White, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, not even those narratives commonly known as fairy tales are meant for children at all, and only started to be projected that way for the multitudes, after severe editing and further changes by various 19th century writers, such as Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers .

Tale of Tales, an Italian-Franco-British production derived from the 17th century collection of tales known as Il Pentamerone and written by Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, can be described as an adult fantasy horror, or at best, a metaphorical cautionary tale.

Sinister, yet strangely sensual. Strange but graceful. Haunting yet moving. This movie is a strange experience and definitely not for children. Tale of Tales has three different and yet finally entwined story lines. On the one hand, we encounter the King and Queen of Selvaoscura, who, true to fairy tale canon, are having difficulty producing an heir. A wandering wizard tells them that to do this, they must find and kill a sea monster, and the Queen (Salma Hayek) must eat its heart. It’s portrayed as a horrifyingly huge bloody mass where she eagerly devours the organ on a silver platter.

The second tale takes us to Roccaforte, where a sexually voracious and dissolute king – played by Vincent Cassel – spies on a woman shrouded in a mantle, whom he believes to be a pretty young beauty, but who in reality is a hideous old crone. The crone’s only treasure is her loving relationship with her sister, who is also an old woman. The king hounds what he believes to be a new conquest, bullying and pressing the two sisters, who don’t know which way to turn without revealing their true identity and being punished for it.

The third story arch follows the King of Altomonte and his daughter Violet. The King (Toby Jones) is a shallow and comic creature, prioritizing the care of an unusual flea over that of his own daughter.

Throughout the three story-arches, the one constant emotion is that of obsession, which, we are shown, is the heart of all evil. Obsession vies with what is supposed to be the love of someone’s family. The Queen of Selvaoscura is obsessed with her son, which is why she seeks to destroy any ties he could have with other people. The King of Roccaforte is obsessed with claiming every young woman he sets eyes on, which results in betrayal, suffering and death. The King of Altomonte and his ridiculous obsession with the flea to the exclusion of all else brings about terrifying consequences.

Flea-petting, heart-eating, rape, flaying, betrayal, morbid jealousy… All this and more makes the movie a very strange and curious beast; a truly horrific Renaissance fairy tale. No wonder that, unlike other tales penned by Basile, these three weren’t even adapted to be read by children. Other tales of his, however, have inspired more well-known fairy tale writers such as Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. In this case, the three tales explored and adapted for the screen – The Enchanted Doe, The Flea and The Flayed Old Lady – serve as a dark metaphor to show that real love of one’s family members doesn’t mean warping them into suiting our own wishes and desires, but accepting them for who they are, even if this means letting them go.

The movie also sports beautiful visuals, as filming locations include stunning palaces, haunting forests and beautiful gardens in NaplesTuscanyAbruzzo and Lazio, amongst others.

I truly recommend this movie to all those who are lovers of the unusual and the artistic – those who appreciate dark humor and black comedy, and who enjoy finding revelations of the truth couched in veiled metaphors and tragic-comic allegory, rather than stark black and white fables.

A version of this article written by me was originally published on Eve magazine.

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The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

“ I love you crookedly because my heart’s been unhinged from birth. The doctors gave me strict instructions not to fall in love: my fragile clockwork heart would never survive. But when you gave me a dose of love so powerful – far beyond my wildest dreams – that I felt able to confront anything for you, I decided to put my life in your hands.” 
― Mathias Malzieu, La Mécanique du cœur

‘The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’, a metaphorical, sweet, and disturbing little book translated into English from French, is a Tim Burtonesque fable of the rarest kind. I purchased the book at the well-known historical bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Attracted by Benjamin Lacombe’s art on the cover (check some of it out here) I couldn’t not give it a go, and boy am I happy that I did!

Our story begins on a cold dark wintry night (of course it does), when an unkown woman gives birth to a very pale baby, delivered by ‘Dr Madeline’ also known as ‘the witch’ in a gothic house set on top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Because yes, this dark gothic tale is set in 19th century Scotland (and we even bump into Jack the Ripper at one point)! The baby is sickly, his heart is weak, and our steampunkish doctor decides to link the hardly-beating heart with a cuckoo-clock set right into the boy’s chest.

Three rules must always be kept:
1. Never touch the hands of the heart-clock
2. Keep your temper under control
3 Whatever else you do, never ever fall in love

Needless to say that during the course of his life, Jack breaks all three rules.

By the way, did I mention there is also an animated version of the book? And it is AMAZING. Yes, this is what happens when the author, Mathias Malzieu, is the leading singer of a French rock band – Dionysus. They created the music for the animated movie themselves of course. You can find some clips on Youtube (both in the original French version and translated to English). 

Oh yes, this book was a real discovery. Thank you Paris. Thank you Shakespeare and Co. Thank you Benjamin Lacombe. And most of all thank you so much Mathias Malzieu!

P.S If you loved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’, this book is right up your street.

Personal rating – 5 on 5 Stars!