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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