Rating — 3.5/5
Whenever I think on modern day fairy tale like movies, Tarsem’s The Fall always comes up. I suppose, if anything from that director’s filmography were to interrupt such a discussion, the more obvious choice would be Mirror Mirror. However, I consider that to be much more a slapstick musical without song than anything else. No, his Fall is my go to pick. It blends the imagination within filmmaking with the imagination of a child, two things that ought to go hand in hand. It’s a fairy tale made by adult minds with child like wonder.
Tale of Tales by Matteo Garrone, conversely, is a fairy tale birthed from the idea that a child’s eyes being bigger than his or her stomach is a cute and wonderful thing. Adult minds, adult sights, and a search for the kid inside, it’s a movie version of the pop up storybook variety. It has ideas and supporting imagery, without the inclination to explore — but to expose, instead. Tragedy with lyrical thought, Tale of Tales rhymes in the right places without needing or wanting to go over heads.
Beneath its veil of castles and costumes, mothers and monsters, there is a journey for the innocence of youth, for the people in the movie and out of it, too. Peter Greenaway once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that any story worth telling involves either sex, death or a scenario that attempts to reconcile one of the two or both. Falling under the heading of death — or time — Tale of Tales has no god like narrator, but a deity of sorts in Matteo Garrone who, through the magic and sorcery of cinema, mixes multiple storylines into one thread. One thread with a singular goal: To cheat the inevitable. To cheat time. To cheat death.
Of course, we know that each tale will end in a lesson being thrust upon those involved, likely being sweet and satisfying. In this regard, Tale of Tales does not disappoint. From selfishness comes sacrifice, from lust comes loss, so on and so on. Every action gets a reaction, and nothing yet everything is set in stone. As a tribute to the classically twisted yet slightly age appropriate stories of old, Tale of Tales also does not disappoint.
While old IS made new again, nothing “new” is really added here. There is depth within the words but not within the music, if you catch on — my drift, that is. There is ugliness in the beautiful royalty, but it is their plight and fights that is focused on. Despite sharing a tender a moment with an ogre, or being entranced by an elderly woman’s song, we are quickly reminded of the shallowness and superficiality of Queens and Kings. They learn nothing, and feel righteous about it. Was this an adaptation of stories BEFORE morals were introduced? BEFORE empathy? Or is the lack thereof part of the point?
Honestly, when flipping through the TV channels, we see nothing but the same thing in “reality” figures. Swap out ogre and elderly for poor and average, and that’s where we’re at today: The Kingdom of Kardashian. Not to suggest that they, specifically, are mean people…
Maybe for some audiences, Tale of Tales will hold more rewards than it did for me. If it makes one curious of current day comparisons and personal desires and wantings, then I would weigh the film higher. However, for my view, this was a film of controlled, significant and swell pieces. It all fit together, turning the final completed puzzle into a painting. Pretty, but one from high school than the louvre. Not that some kind of wonderful can’t come from it, but that some kind of wonderful may be in the eye of the beholder.
For this beholder, The Fall this is not. Then again, should it be?
Bill Arceneaux is an independent film critic from New Orleans and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association.