With more magical realism in “Reality”’ and more darkness in “Gomorrah”, Matteo Garrone narrates here a series of Italian Renaissance tales only to ground imagination into an old and stale chatter.
Matteo Garrone got us excited (and made our blood run cold all at the same time) in 2008 with “Gomorrah”. Probably something similar happened five years earlier with “The Embalmer”, a film for competent viewers. This does not mean that he is a director able to meet any challenge, as proven in 2012 with the satirical film “Reality”. Therefore, when he makes the grandiose promise of presenting the “Tale of Tales” on screen, expectations run high and the anticlimax becomes even steeper and shocking.
“Tale of Tales” is based on fairytales written by Italian Giambattista Basile in the 17th century that sound really exciting: aquatic dragons and evil queens, passing witches and lustful princes, fatal sacrifices to eternal youth and dangerous bargains with the messengers of death. Renaissance folktales, which are violent, erotic and covered in mud, while remaining at the same critical of power corruption (both in feudal times, but also current politics if one wishes). The critique extends to the hubris of humans who are pitted against nature in their effort to modify its course. In addition, Garrone, perhaps in a tribute to Italian civilisation, deliberately sets his stories in real palaces of the time, decorated with their real furniture and artwork and surrounded by today’s wild nature.
And this is where the interesting part of the film runs out. Garrone goes for a luxury production with wonderful costumes, locations and special effects ( the seabed albino-monster is really lovely, although we only see it briefly) and with a famous cast that, apart perhaps from Salma Hayek, remains wholly underused (Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Stacy Martin of the «Nymp () maniac») and is only connected by their common, English, language. The film has neither the imaginary power to transpose the myths into a nightmarish, dreamy or at least fairytale universe, which would allow our mind to wander in darkness. Nor does it transfer the ancient tales, which always have a classic narrative thread running through them, into today’s world. Finally, it fails to give them a different, harder, more direct cinematic character, despite the ‘narrative’ score of Alexander Desplat.
So “Tale of Tales” leaves us untouched despite a slightly arrogant parade of caricatures, which is flat and one-dimensional. At a time where TV series, like the “Game of Thrones” or “Hannibal”, can make us believe in the mother of dragons or sophisticated cannibalism, Garrone, despite the means he has at his disposal, fails to make the best use of a material, which could lend itself for transcedental cinema, opting instead for a pomposity of the like of Yannis Smaragdis.