Today I watched Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales (2015)
As this film is based on a collection of 17th century fables and fairy tales, it takes the form of an anthology of three separate stories. The first story begins with a King and Queen unable to conceive a child, until they are visited by a strange magical figure. This stranger tells them that if the King goes out and kills a sea monster, and if the sea monster’s heart is prepared for the Queen by a virgin, she will conceive after eating it. While the King dies in the effort, the heart is secured and the Queen does become pregnant, but so too does the virgin servant who prepared the meal. When they both give birth, their sons are identical and seem to share a strong bond, much to the Queen’s dismay.
The second tale concerns a King who becomes obsessed with a pet flea which grows to enormous proportions. When this flea dies he skins it and holds a contest, whomever can identify the hide of that strange beast will win his daughter’s hand in marriage. Turns out the only one to know what a giant flea hide looks like is an ogre, so that doesn’t go well. Finally the third story sees another King, this one a womanizing misanthrope, attempting to woo a woman whom he only hears. Her angelic singing touches the King’s heart, but he is a cruel man and will not understand that the woman he heard was in fact very old.
As an anthology of traditional European fairy tales, this film is presented with wonderful ingenuity and imagination. The inter-cutting between them is sharp and very well paced, always revealing something new and strange as the stories unfold together. But does the film really deliver on it’s name? Do the disparate elements actually come together to make a cohesive whole? On this matter I am a bit torn, on the one hand they are united aesthetically and by mood, but thematically they seem to diverge significantly from one another. There is however, a through line with every King and Queen in this movie being totally crazy in one way or another, but I did not feel as though the film really focused on this nascent theme of corruption and power.
That being said, by the time the credits stated rolling i did not feel dissatisfied with this lack of connectivity. Truly the artistry here is enough to keep this work moving along. There is a magic in traditional European fantasy that is often lost in modern high fantasy, a combination of wonderful and disturbing ideas wrapped into a single idea. There is so much creativity in modern worlds of elves, dwarves, and orcs, give me the giant fleas pleas. 5/5