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Tale Of Tales (2015)
Director: Matteo Garrone

review by Steven Hampton

In spite of its somewhat pretentious title, this interwoven collection of European fairy stories presents a fascinating package of many visual delights and dramatic twists, with star turns from a quartet of thespians all quite familiar to genre fans.

There are Verne styled submariner images when a doomed king (John C. Reilly) plays a knight's role to slay a river dragon, so that his childless wife (Salma Hayek) can claim the beast's still-beating heart. After the queen feasts upon the boiled organ, she is impregnated by its magic, and promptly gives birth to a white-haired son who's magically bonded with a second boy, born to a virgin servant. This dragon-heart spell blends into other plots.

Ugly sisters charm a womanising king (Vincent Cassel) with their supposedly angelic singing, while yet another bored king (Toby Jones) keeps a pet flea and feeds it royal blood so it grows to a monstrous size. Glorious slapstick and tragedy ensues when the flayed flea's skin is used as a royal court test in order to choose a suitor for the foolish king's comely but naive daughter. Will the lonely princess really have to marry a cave-dwelling bald ogre just because the giant knows what fleas smell like?

Magnificent landscapes contrast with high quality but clearly old-fashioned television styled sets (there are none of the darker and sombre cinematic tones of Game Of Thrones here), and sometimes cheerfully camp attitudes to surreal fantasy narrative. Nevertheless, there are plenty of great horrific moments (note its 15 certificate; this is not a fantasy movie suitable for little kids!) that are certainly worthy of anti-Disney awards, and Tale Of Tales boasts some top-notch creature effects.

In the end, however, it seems that something was lost in the translation and, perhaps, the decision to shoot in English (this is the director's first such effort) proves to be TOT's undoing. The fantastical imagery is fabulous and enchanting but with macabre scenes of grotesquery. That's more than enough to make up for its language problems, and so the minor shortfalls in its production values should not put off viewers in search of an outlandish and extraordinary treat.

Tale of Tales

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