The Tale of Tales aka The Pentamerone was first published in 1634, collected by the Neopolitan poet Ciambattista Basile. It was clever of Matteo Garrone to adapt such innovative, whimsical tales, the surreal nature of the writing giving him an abundance of creative freedom to devour - cutting between a feeding flea, to a moody queen scoffing a plate of sea monster heart, and a wrinkly old woman sticking her finger through a peep hole in an attempt to seduce a young sex-mad king. Although the tales originate from centuries ago, Garrone freshens up the traditional, Eurocentric taste by adding Vincent Cassel and John C Reily to the pot.
John C Reily skilfully appears as if he is re-enacting his first school play (featuring in the tale, The Enchanted Doe), he chases after his Queen, Salma Hayek, and cries: “my love please, I will make you happy my love”. Such satirical drizzle is executed subtly but effectively throughout and is hilarious; Garrone playfully refrains from mocking the genre's theatrical form and avoids being overly dramatic, resulting in giggles at this silly-but-serious conviction.
Unfortunately, Reilly's powerful words only foreshadow what is next to come; grizzly consequences. The Queen and King meet with a shifty-looking cloaked individual who happens to be lurking around the kingdom - it's a fairy tale coincidence. He offers the Queen her greatest wish: to become a parent and as expected terms and conditions apply... The King or Queen is expected to sacrifice themself, in order to be rewarded with the birth of a new life. Queen Longtrellis agrees, and so the king sets off to hunt a seamonster, dissect it's heart and bring it back to his ladyship.
John C Reilly is THE perfect man to perform such a melodramatic underwater scene - the diving suit, the murky waters, the accompanying orchestral rising background music, the spear, the spurt of blood that gushes out of the sea monster, all intensified further with his extreme, slow motion movement and topped off with a surrendering beast, that comes crashing towards the seabed - a visionary, ridiculous, and ever so slight anticlimax.
As soon as the King retrieves his pulsing trophy, he collapses, spluttering. After such a heroic display, it is his life that must be sacrificed. This is a shame, as I assumed he would last longer than the first twenty minutes, considering he isn't even killed off in Basile's. Perhaps this is Garrone's way of implicating how the male is no longer required after he has served his purpose, sexually (the sea monster ordeal, a metaphor to portray his sexual contribution to creating the child, represented through the ejaculation of the sea monster's blood.) Moreover, in the original, it is the King who longs for a child and forces the Queen to eat the heart, this appears exploitive towards the female identity, as she is considered only for the use of her womb. However, in Garrone's adaptation, it is the Queen who desires a child, and she is determined to do what it takes to become a mother, self sufficiently. The King's death inspires the Queen to become self-reliant and act independently, as she retrieves the heart and returns back to the kingdom to take care of the job herself.
The Flea is the fifth tale belonging to the first day of Basile's collection. A fruity story to say the least, starring the odd looking Toby Jones (Berberian Sound Studio), who fits the bill as a fly-nurturing recluse type – his look of genuine pleasure whilst feeding, loving and teaching his pet-fly tricks, is very believable. He shuns his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave), choosing to put her musical talents and desire for a husband to the side, opting to revel in a pool of fly ecstasy instead. The fly takes a sudden turn for the worst: “It's a respiratory problem!” and sadly loses it's battle. Thus the King of Highhills is heartbroken and has nothing better to do than to refocus his attention on his daughter by trying to find her a suitor.
Garrone's third tale, The Old Woman who was Skinned Alive, is a personal favourite. Truly funny, this episode is lead by Vincent Cassel, (one of my favourite actors anyway), who plays a stereotypical, roguish woman-obsessed idiot. Portraying a man with copious power, wealth and half a brain, he struts around with bouncy locks wearing a smutty grin, an opened white bell sleeved shirt and a crown. One day he overhears a sweet melody and intrigued, he follows it, craning his neck out of his high tower, in a hope of catching a glimpse. He notices two women and beckons them desperately, curious to discover what face could possibly match such a beautiful sound. Reaching into his chest full of jewels, he makes a lucky dip and sends a piece to the 'mysterious' singing woman...
Garrone adapts the Tale of Tales efficiently, concludes his versions brutally and ensures that characters suffer for their wrongful behaviour. For example, in The Enchanted Doe, the Queen dies for her jealousy, unable to control the obsessive bitterness she exhibits towards her son, Elias (Christian Lees) and his albino twin, Jonah (Jonah Lees). Although she ultimately perishes, (which does not happen in the original story), Garrone gives the Queen a voice by depicting her as a determined, loving mother with good intentions, who raises her son by herself. However, her loving devotion, turns to envy, and consequently she is made to suffer.
Garrone's attention to detail is splendid, especially through his injection of metaphorical tweaks and twists throughout (figurative language, typical of the baroque style). His innovative choices bring a twinkle to the tales, and elevate the film from being just a poor, long-winded depiction of predictable stories. He adapts a more just approach, as he gives the female protagonists a voice, and presents women as self-sufficient, strong and alive. Although they endure their comeuppance and quite rightly so, as vanity and jealousy are immoral traits to possess, (there being a fairy tale conduct to preserve...), he revives the conventional tales, by adding a necessary, positive portrayal of an 'engaged female', of which is satisfying and liberating to watch.
Garrone ultimately ensures that his female characters are listened to, unlike the majority of princesses and queens from previous fairy tales, who are simply seen but not heard, making this adapatation endlessly unique.
This film is no longer showing at FACT so find out what else is on here!