Film review – Il racconto dei racconti / Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, 2016)

Tale of Tales is a film that merges three fantasy tales from Italian storyteller Giambattista Basile’s book Pentamerone. The results are mixed.

The first, The Enchanted Doe, stars Salma Hayak as the Queen of Darkwood, who is struggling to have a child with her King, played by John C. Reilly. Taking the advice from a necromancer, the King sets off to capture the heart of a sea monster for his Queen to eat. Doing so brings her the child she desires, but this comes at a cost.

The second tale, The Flea, stars Toby Jones as a king seemingly reluctant to find a husband for his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave). Secretly, he is nurturing a flea in his chambers, growing it to an enormous size, but in doing so neglects his daughter. 

The final tale, The Flayed Old Woman, stars Vincent Cassel as a king with an insatiable lust for all women he lays eyes on. He is attracted by one woman (Hayley Carmichael), however, that he cannot see but can hear. As she sings a beautiful lament from the shadows of the streets of his kingdom, so begins an addiction to seeking her out to fulfil his desires. Fearful of him seeing her true form, she tries to push him away, only for his desire to grow stronger.

The three stories run entirely separately until the final scene, which is sort of a throwaway tidbit that attempts but fails to tie it all together. The overall result is something akin to a highbrow fantasy take on ‘Love, Actually’, whereby several separate storylines weave in and out of one another without significantly benefiting from it. Indeed, the sum may well be less than the parts.

The opening scenes concentrate almost exclusively on Salma Hayak’s unfolding story, to the point where when we first see Vincent Cassel it’s confusing to work out how he fits into the rest of the story. A few moments later it becomes obvious (sort of) that he’s the king of another kingdom, though we have to deduce that ourselves. Perhaps I’m just used to being spoon-fed too much, but I was confused.

The Flea segments are painfully slow, with Toby Jones feeling a little wasted as he tries and fails to inject some life into a largely lifeless story.

Hayley Carmichael rises above the dross to give a starring turn as the old woman Dora, with segments largely full of wit and humour. Vincent Cassell adds a lot to these scenes, lifting them with a knowing amount of irony that just about makes the film bearable.

It is interesting that the director Matteo Garrone has stated that he had worked on ideas for a few other stories from the same source material. In my opinion, these tales would work significantly better broken up and serialised. There is some good work here but it’s hard to get sucked in by one faltering tale, let alone three.

A visually stunning film that fails to ignite the interest, an issue I blame mainly on poor editing and a disappointing adaptation of some highly respected source material.

Film review – A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2016)

A Bigger Splash tells the story of Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), an ageing rock star taking a resting vacation on the remote Italian island Pantelleria with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a filmmaker. Their vacation is disrupted when Marriane’s larger-than-life ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).

Watching A Bigger Splash is a little like watching a car crash in agonisingly slow motion. As the tensions rise and tempers are frayed, you see the action unfolding and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even though you want to look away you just can’t.

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An interesting choice attributed to Swinton herself was that Marianne is recovering from an operation on her vocal folds. It means that her abundant acting abilities risk going to waste. This isn’t the case at all. Indeed, that she is able to command her scenes whilst not even speaking highlights her presence in front of a camera. Her frustration at not being able to shut Harry up is evident. This, mixed with Paul’s desire to not be drawn into arguments and Penelope’s apparent disinterest in just about everything, means Harry is able to be the centre of attention at all times, much to the bemusement of the three people whose lives he is engulfing.

It’s a tremendous performance from Fiennes. He is most certainly an annoying person to watch on screen, let along imagine being on holiday with. He’s a tragic man desperate to avoid the realisation that nobody cares anymore. We all know someone like Harry in our lives, but none of us like him. Unfortunately, whilst the performance is fantastic and it plays out beautifully, it doesn’t necessarily make for great cinema. Achieving a cinematic goal doesn’t justify it.

One thing this film shares with La Piscine, the 1969 French film on which this is based, is the gratuitous nudity. It didn’t really feel integral to the plot, and lacked any kind of eroticism that it may have been angling for, feeling instead to be overly sleazy.

The political setting didn’t really give any edge to the film either. Set amid a backdrop of illegal migrants landing on Pantelleria, it just felt like a shallow attempt to date the film without adding much to the plot. This could have been rectified if we’d seen the migrants sooner, but by the time they were first mentioned it felt like an irrelevant afterthought.

The film also feels about twenty minutes too long, with the action seeming to reach a climax only to drag  on far beyond the point it held my attention. As with all car crashes, it’s not very enjoyable to watch. The elements are all there – great acting, beautiful scenery, fantastic plot development – it’s just that the overall effect doesn’t deliver on its component parts.

A Bigger Splash is out at cinemas now.