Tale of Tales

02/19/2021 06:02

Film: Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti)

Year: 2015

Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti and Matteo Garrone

Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones



This was a movie that I’ll be honest, I never heard of. It popped up on Letterboxd for horror films so I decided for Italian horror month to check it out for my podcast as Italy was its country of origin. This is a type of anthology where we have 3 interconnected tales involving three different kings. The synopsis is from the bitter quest of the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek), to two mysterious sisters who provoke the passion of a king, to the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) obsessed with a giant flea. These are tales inspired by the fairytales by Giambattista Basile.

We start this off following what appears to be a clown. There are others that make up what looks to be a circus and we see they are there to perform for the Queen and King of Longtrellis (John C. Reilly). He is enjoying what they’re doing, but the Queen not so much. She leaves in anger when she discovers one of the performers is pregnant. We learn that the Queen cannot conceive. Their fortunes change when a Necromancer (Franco Pistoni) tells them a way. The King then goes to kill a sea monster, but he dies in the process. From this beast, its heart is prepared by a virgin and Laura Pizzirani is selected. The Queen must eat it and she will become with child. This virgin also becomes pregnant when breathing in the vapors while it is being prepared.

It is at the funeral procession for the King of Longtrellis do we meet our other kings. There’s King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) who gives into the lusts of the flesh and also the King of Highhills who has a daughter.

From here, the movie takes us 16 years into the future. The Queen of Longtrellis has a son of Elias (Christian Lees) who is albino. He has befriended Jonah (Jonah Lees) who looks exactly like him. The Queen forbids the two from being friends and threatens to send the commoner away if they do not heed her warnings. The two are connected though much more than she cares to believe.

The King of Strongcliff continues to lead his life of debauchery. He’s entranced when he hears the singing of Dora (Hayley Carmichael). When he goes to see her, she refuses to open the door. The reason is that she is old and ugly. She lives with her sister Imma (Shirley Henderson). They come up with a way of staving off the king, but in the end, he’s going to want to see the woman with the beautiful singing voice. She isn’t what he’s expecting though and Imma doesn’t want it going too far. She will do what she has to though if it means losing her sister.

There is then the story of King of Highhills. His daughter grows up to be Violet (Bebe Cave). She’s heard the beautiful tales of knights and chivalry. Her father doesn’t want to lose her. He becomes obsessed though with this magical flea. It grows to a monstrous size, but unable to support itself. He sees a way to ensure he never loses his daughter, but that backfires when an Ogre (Guillaume Delaunay) enters to guess the hide that is displayed.

I think that is where I’ll leave my recap of the movie. That gets you up to speed what the three stories we will follow without giving away too much. I didn’t know that these were fairy tales from Italy, but I thought it was pretty cool. They’re not ones I’m familiar with so they are fresh. It would be interesting to see if people growing up there if they are common knowledge.

Being that they are fairy tales, they are interesting cautionary tales here with a good message. The Queen of Longtrellis is willing to do whatever it takes to have a son, even sacrifice her husband. The problem then becomes not wanting to give up her son. He’s a bit young to be married from the looks, but she doesn’t even want him to have a friend in Jonah. She sends him away and this causes Elias to leave her to find him when he discovers he’s in trouble. This leads to an interesting showdown with a monster that isn’t what it seems. Sometimes we become the monster we don’t expect.

The King of Strongcliff story is interesting to have Cassel playing the lead. He does so well at living this lifestyle of debauchery. Being that he’s a king, he can do whatever he wants. When he falls in love with Dora’s voice, she knows that he will never love her, but she likes the attention. Imma tries to prevent it as it leads them down this path of destruction and ruin for the two of them. There’s a bit of getting the taste of something better and not wanting to give it up. We also get the ‘what are you willing to give up for a better life’ angle as well.

King of Highhills is another odd one as well. He has this beautiful daughter. She’s heard these fairy stories of knights and love. She wants that. As a princess, it would be expected that he would marry her off to a similar family. Instead, this king gets caught up in this magical flea he finds. I like his discovery is while Violet is playing a song on a lute she wrote. It appears he is ignoring her, which in a sense he is. I don’t feel it is intentional though. He really has no plans to marry her off and sets up a game that he thinks is unbeatable. That is until the Ogre shows up. Now this isn’t a monster one like Shrek. It is just a mountain man who has grown to quite a large size and is uncivilized. This takes a strange journey to Violet becoming a strong woman for sure.

Where I think I’ll go next is the acting. We have some heavy hitters here for sure with Hayak, Cassel, Jones and Reilly. They’re all really good in their performances. Despite them being the stars of the movie technically, I’d say it really is more of Henderson, Carmichael, Cave and the Lees brothers. I really like Henderson as Imma. She wants to just live her life, but Carmichael messes this up with the King showing interest in her. They both get punishments in different forms. Cave was really good as well as Violet. I think she has some of the best growth to where she ends up. It is really showing her losing her naivety and coming of age. I’d say aside from that, the rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed.

What I also thought was good was the effects of the movie. This is visually stunning. I do need to give a lot of credit to the set-pieces they have here. They really did look amazing and feels like we’re in this fictional world it is set. There are practical effects here which also looked good. The giant flea and the sea monster would fall into this. There is some CGI for both of these that don’t look amazing. It isn’t overly important and small part of the movie so I won’t hold it against the movie too much. The costumes and everything there were also on point for me.

If I do have any issues with this movie though, it would definitely be that it runs too long. We’re clocking this in at 134 minutes. It does make sense to run a bit longer as we have to introduce 3 stories, give us the crux of what will be the downfall and then having it end as tales like these tend to do. I did find myself bored though near the end of the second act, going into the third. It does bring me back in, but I think there’s some fat that could be trimmed in my opinion.

So with that said, this is still a movie that I found interesting. We have some cautionary tales here that I wasn’t familiar with. It feels fantastically with some of the elements like giant sea monsters, fleas growing to epic sizes and even a witch thrown in there. It does have social commentary that you can pull from it, even though it is a period piece. I thought the acting was good. No real glaring issues with the effects and the soundtrack fit for what was needed. Overall I’d rate this as above average overall, but just lacking a bit for me to really go higher at this time.


My Rating: 7 out of 10