Tale of Tales”, ravishingly grown-up fairy tales.

??? in The Tale of Tales.

Sta­cy Mar­tin in Tale of Tales.

As is so often the case, there was some­thing mild­ly unsat­is­fac­to­ry about the prizes met­ed out at last year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Though in ret­ro­spect, giv­en what hap­pened at this year’s Fes­ti­val, last year’s win­ners feel like a vin­tage batch. If places like Cannes keep giv­ing the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh prizes like that, then obvi­ous­ly they’re going to keep sul­ly­ing the cin­e­mat­ic land­scape with more of the same.

Last year’s Palme D’Or went to Dheep­an, at the expense of Car­ol which got the con­so­la­tion prize of Best Actress for Rooney Mara. But both left you ever so slight­ly deflat­ed, the for­mer set­tling into con­ven­tion­al thriller mode, the lat­ter being too cool­ly man­nered. But the one that got away was Mat­teo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, which some­how failed to win anything.

Rooney Mara with Cate Blanchett as Carol.

Rooney Mara with Cate Blanchett as Car­ol.

Gar­rone burst on to the inter­na­tion­al scene in 2008 with Gomor­rah, his much praised adap­ta­tion of Rober­to Saviani’s unmask­ing of Neapoli­tan cor­rup­tion. But you always had a sense that that film had been laud­ed more for its moral intent than for its artis­tic mer­it. And its episod­ic nature denud­ed it of any sense of nar­ra­tive drive.

There’s an episod­ic feel to his lat­est film too. But on this occa­sion and unusu­al­ly, the sep­a­rate nar­ra­tive strands that seem to exist inde­pen­dent­ly of one anoth­er, and only even­tu­al­ly meet thanks to a clum­si­ly forced end­ing, pro­duce a film that feels both nat­ur­al and earth­i­ly alive.

The 2015 winner Dheepan.

The 2015 win­ner Dheepan.

That’s because Tale of Tales is based on three of the fifty or so fairy tales that were col­lat­ed by Gian­bat­tista Basile in 17th cen­tu­ry south­ern Italy. And fairy tales are the one genre where nar­ra­tive dri­ve takes a back seat. Here, for once, it real­ly is all about char­ac­ter. And what emerges is a very dif­fer­ent Ital­ian land­scape to the one Gar­rone pre­vi­ous­ly showed us, free here from any sense of moral lessons to be learned, and all the bet­ter and more alive because of it.

The first of the three sees Sel­ma Hayek as a queen hell bent on being pro­vid­ed for with child. But the boy that is even­tu­al­ly pro­duced arrives as a twin, and inevitably there’s a price for her deter­mi­na­tion to have had him.

The sec­ond revolves around John C. Reil­ly as a king whose self­ish­ness results in his fail­ing to more prop­er­ly admin­is­ter to the needs of his daugh­ter. And the third, and the most tan­gi­bly tac­tile of the three, fol­lows a mag­nif­i­cent­ly debauched king, played with lusty gus­to by Vin­cent Cas­sel, as he is led for­ev­er by his desire to pur­sue what­ev­er it is that has momen­tar­i­ly caught his fancy.

Fellini looks up at la Seraghina on the set of 8 1/2.

Felli­ni looks up at la Ser­aghi­na on the set of 8 1/2.

Though when that even­tu­al­ly leads him to Sta­cy Mar­tin draped in noth­ing more than a cas­cade of fiery curls that just about pre­serve her mod­esty, you could be for­giv­en for won­der­ing whether self­ish­ness might not be being giv­en some­thing of a bad rap.

Sump­tu­ous­ly pho­tographed and shot entire­ly on loca­tion at var­i­ous cas­tles through­out Italy, Tale Of Tales is a won­der­ful­ly grown up and mag­nif­i­cent beast of a film. And Gar­rone has that Felliniesque urge to cast as much for an actor’s phys­i­cal pres­ence as for their abil­i­ty to deliv­er lines. Fran­co Pis­toni’s turn as the necro­mancer is par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing, and the wol­lowy form with hol­lowed cheeks that bares down on the Queen was nev­er going to be the bar­er of good news. And so it proves.

Tale of Tales demands to be seen in the cin­e­ma, and is released in Ire­land and Britain this June. You can see the trail­er here.

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Cronenberg’s new Film “Maps To The Stars” is a Poison Pen Letter to Hollywood.

Maps To The Stars.

Maps To The Stars.

David Cro­nen­berg’s new film Maps To The Stars arrives here from this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val where it was screened in May. Most of the famous satires on Hol­ly­wood are secret­ly in awe of the place. The Play­er, The Bad and the Beau­ti­ful, even Sun­set Boule­vard (all reviewed ear­li­er here) have an under­ly­ing warmth and exhib­it a shy love love view of Hol­ly­wood. Not this one.

Julianne Moore plays an actress who’s seen bet­ter days and has nev­er real­ly come to terms with the death of the moth­er who brought her up so dis­as­trous­ly. She takes on Mia Wasikows­ka as her per­son­al assis­tant. Her estranged moth­er and father are a famous pow­er cou­ple over­see­ing the mete­oric career of her 13 year old brother.

James Spader in Crash.

James Spad­er in Crash.

There’s a strong sense of impend­ing doom and Greek tragedy to the film, sug­gest­ing the Oresteia. And the air of neme­sis, hubris and inevitable ret­ri­bu­tion hang heavy through­out. All the cast are excel­lent, and it’s easy to see how Moore won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. But it’s equal­ly easy to see why the film failed to win any of the main prizes.

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon return from Cosmopolis for Cronenberg's new film.

Robert Pat­tin­son and Sarah Gadon return from Cos­mopo­lis for Cro­nen­berg’s new film.

Yes it’s extra­or­di­nar­i­ly caus­tic, and unremit­ting­ly bleak (and often very fun­ny) about the sorts of lives that those who inhab­it Hol­ly­wood live. And, it has to be said, all too believ­ably so. But more than that, there’s a clin­i­cal cold­ness to the film’s final quar­ter. Unlike Crash, which gives an equal­ly dystopi­an overview of the mod­ern world, Maps To The Stars sinks to its con­clu­sion instead of ris­ing to an emo­tion­al crescen­do. Its spir­it is Apol­lon­ian rather than Dionysian, and it ends up being a film that you great­ly admire instead of being one that you’re dev­as­tat­ed by.

Nonethe­less, togeth­er with the recent Cos­mopo­lis (reviewed ear­li­er here) it’s anoth­er impres­sive addi­tion to Cronenberg’s august back cat­a­logue. And he con­tin­ues to be one the very few seri­ous film mak­ers around. You can see the trail­er to Maps To The Stars here.

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Farhadi’s “The Past” Boasts Immaculate Performances from Young and Old.

The Past.

The Past.

Asghar Farha­di is one of the few gen­uine­ly excit­ing film mak­ers work­ing any­where in the world. The Past is his sixth film and the first he’s made out­side of his native Iran.

After the huge and entire­ly mer­it­ed suc­cess of his pre­vi­ous film A Sep­a­ra­tion, reviewed here, The Past was one of the most keen­ly await­ed films at the 2013 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. But it only end­ed up get­ting the con­so­la­tion prize of Best Actress for Bérénice Bejo. Quite cor­rect­ly Blue Is The Warmest Colour won the Palm D’Or, and was reviewed here

The good news is, The Past is a lot bet­ter than that would sug­gest. Bejo has asked her estranged hus­band to come back to France to sign the papers on their divorce, with­out fill­ing him in on the details as to why she now needs it.  And over the course of the next few days he and we slow­ly learn of why it is that Bejo’s teenage daugh­ter is so unhap­py with her moth­er, her new man, and how they came together.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

As with About Elly and A Sep­a­ra­tion, Farhadi’s abil­i­ty to care­ful­ly tell his sto­ry, slow­ly reveal­ing its metic­u­lous­ly posi­tioned plot points is unri­valled. And all the per­for­mances are out­stand­ing. Bejo, who shot to fame in 2011 in the inex­plic­a­bly laud­ed The Artist reviewed here, is a rev­e­la­tion. Ali Mossafa is superb as her for­mer hus­band, but most remark­able of all is Alyes Aguis who plays the 5 year old son of her new man.

All three chil­dren – the two chil­dren plus the teenage Lucy – give the kind of extra­or­di­nary per­for­mances that French cin­e­ma some­how excels at. And The Past is part of that proud tra­di­tion of films from the likes of Fran­cois Truf­faut and Louis Malle which explore the world of adults through the eyes of chil­dren, ren­der­ing their vis­tas all the more mov­ing  because of the per­for­mances they man­age mirac­u­lous­ly to coach from them.

Truffaut's The 400 Blows.

Truf­faut’s The 400 Blows.

But it would be disin­gen­u­ous to pre­tend that The Past weren’t ever so slight­ly dis­ap­point­ing. The momen­tum dis­si­pates in in its final quar­ter as the focus shifts from the for­mer hus­band to the new man. And instead of build­ing to some sort of con­clu­sion, it qui­et­ly comes to a halt.

By any oth­er stan­dards though, this is a must see. Even if in years to come it’ll be looked back at as a minor Farha­di, rather than one of his key works.

You can see the trail­er for The Past here.

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The Artist”- Michel Hazanavicius

This year’s smash hit at Cannes… Silent and in black and white… Clas­si­cal­ly French…  Charm­ing per­for­mances… And the dog…! Hmmn, what? Oh I’m sor­ry, I think I might have dozed off there.

There have of course been some gen­uine­ly won­der­ful films about Hol­ly­wood. Bil­ly Wilder’s Sun­set Boule­vard (’50), Vin­cente Min­nel­li’s The Bad And The Beau­ti­ful (’52), Robert Alt­man’s The Play­er (’92) and David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Dri­ve (’01) being the four most memorable.

All depict a pitch black world bereft of a moral com­pass, where blind­ly dri­ven char­ac­ters devote their lives to sac­ri­fic­ing their tal­ent on the altar to per­son­al ambi­tion. The result is a land­scape where any­thing can hap­pen, and every­one’s care­ful cal­cu­la­tions are for­ev­er under­mined by the whims of the non-exis­tent but mis­chie­vous Gods. They are all in oth­er words Euro­pean films, that just hap­pen to use Hol­ly­wood as their backdrop.

They reek of the Old World, with its iron­ic insou­ciance and casu­al cyn­i­cism, and are free entire­ly of that unshak­able cer­tain­ty and bound­less opti­mism that make the New World so appeal­ing and give it its veneer of invincibility.

Mul­hol­land Dri­ve might look like Hol­ly­wood, but its cor­rect title, as David Thomp­son so per­cep­tive­ly point­ed out is Mul­hol­land Dr., and the that Dr stands for “dream”, as in night­mare. The pow­ers that be that gov­ern this world are neb­u­lous, nefar­i­ous and hope­less­ly inscrutable. This might be the dream fac­to­ry, but these are the wrong kinds of dreams.

The Artist is the exact oppo­site. It’s an all too con­ven­tion­al Hol­ly­wood film clum­si­ly dressed in Euro­pean art-house chic. Sure, if you’ve nev­er seen, say, a Madon­na video (it’s in black and white!!) or a for­eign film (what, sub­ti­tles!!! (well, titles actu­al­ly)), then you might but briefly mis­take it for some­thing mild­ly un-con­ven­tion­al. But you’ll very quick­ly tire of the film’s un-rip­pled progress, as all the char­ac­ters duti­ful­ly make their way down all too well worn paths.

The fact of the mat­ter is, The Artist isn’t a pas­tiche of those ear­ly Hol­ly­wood films, it’s one of them. And it’s every bit as dull, drea­ry and pre­dictable as those kinds of films have always been. That’s why, both then and now, we grav­i­tate towards the likes of Méliès and Eisen­stein, Lang, Mur­nau and Chap­lin. Their con­stant inven­tion and daz­zling bril­liance are a glo­ri­ous cor­rec­tive to the bar­rage of end­less tedi­um we’re for­ev­er forced to put up with from main­stream Hollywood.

Still. There is of course one part of the world where they’ll see The Artist as a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly coura­geous attempt to buck the pre­vail­ing trend of drown­ing every­thing in a cacoph­o­ny of wide screen, sur­round sound 3D Tech­ni­col­or noise. Roll on the Acad­e­my Awards.