Tale of Tales

2016 – Italy, France, UK

Director: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Salma Hayak, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassell, Toby Jones

Words: R. Topham

Picture what Game of Thrones would be without the Northern accents, extreme misery and gore, and that’s kind of what Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of 17th century fairy tales by Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile is like. The three main interweaving stories of the film are based on a collection of the latter’s works: The Enchanted Doe, The Flea and The Flayed Old Lady, with incorporated elements from other tales. Mix a gigantic flea with the maternal paranoia of a heart-munching queen, plus a horny king and his metamorphic love interest, and the results should be a fantastical folklore deluge. Alas, ‘tis not.

A dismal alternative to the sprightly live-action versions of Cinderella and Snow White, it’s a visual journey of turmoil that sufficiently adheres to its baroque origins. Though it’s refreshing to see an Italian production released en masse in the UK and US, it’s kind of the film equivalent to Sheffield’s Cheesegrater car park – artfully crafted and interesting to look at from the outside, but disappointing and hollow on the inside. It’s difficult to recommend any memorable moments or dramatic highlights, because it is, essentially, a collage of grand locations and even grander costume design. And the dubbing of the necromancer is so shambolic it’s almost parody.

Perhaps the most tedious element is that it panders to every common stereotype of gender characteristics in historical fantasy dramas. “But it’s based on material that’s 400 years old!” I hear you cry – yes it is. Material that influenced the modern versions of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty, in fact. But it’s archaic context provides an incredibly tired and somewhat grating dialogue as well as a pool of uninspiring, overacted characters that test your forbearance. Fellow critics have described the film as “delightful” because of its exploration of colour as a tool for exemplifying emotion, and because Salma Hayek can act sad from time to time, but is that enough sustenance, given the calibre of films released this year?