Tale of Tales (2016; Matteo Garrone)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 13 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Tale of Tales is a gory, bizarre but oddly restrained fantasy from Gomorrah director Garrone, one inspired by the fairy tales of Giambattista Basile.
Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly play a childless queen and king in the opening chapter. It’s perfect casting in that those are the only two people that this staunch patriot could ever imagine revering as royalty. A hooded mystic influences the unhappy queen to send her husband to steal the heart of a sea monster, the first in a series of practical-effect beasts that lumber throughout this luxuriously stiff oddity. Devouring the sea monster’s heart causes the queen to become pregnant. At the same time, the female servant who prepared the meal also gives birth to an identical albino twin.
Sixteen years later and Hayek looks exactly the same, just like in real life. The queen takes the hand of a debauched king but fixates entirely on her son, frowning on his friendship with his serf-class double. Meanwhile, the boys hatch a Prince and the Pauper-style body-switching scheme. Other arms of this beast involve cave ogres, giant fleas, lonely princesses, witches, tightrope walkers and performing bears. However, most story threads wrap around power struggles of truth vs. deception and freedom vs. control in familial relationships.
Viscous and tactile, Tale of Tales feels like David Cronenberg hijacked the set of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre with an EXistenZ gristle gun. If only there were some more shape to this thing! Too many scenes struggle on awkwardly, like a slain animal that doesn’t know it’s dead yet.