Tale of Tales follows three interweaving stories in a dark fantasy landscape. The first story tells of a mother (Salma Hayek) willing to do anything to get the son she never had. The second story takes us through the life of a debaucherous king (Vincent Cassel) and his blind courting of two elder sisters with siren voices. And the third tale trails along a king (Toby Jones) obsessed with a giant flea and retaining the company of his daughter.
Tale of Tales Review
The dark fantasy realm is such a unique experience in film. It contains an odd spectrum of other genres, from gothic horror like Crimson Peak to the more adventure-based plots like Legend and Krull. I hate to even mention the genre without bringing up Pan's Labyrinth. In fact, many of del Toro's original works fit right along with this anthology piece, which is perhaps why I felt so at home in my wheelhouse.
Along with its del Toro-like tendencies, Tale of Tales also grasped onto an old magic in its effects work reminiscent of silent era films. There are elements of its storytelling and vision that engage in a time older than the film presents otherwise. It can feel awkward, but in general it provides a unique viewing experience.
Giambattista Basile, the Neapolitan poet from which the film was loosely based, wrote works containing the earliest known versions of Rapunzel and Cinderella, which as we know are far darker the further back you go in their incarnations. The tales we see on display here are just as dark, so bleak in fact that it's hard to grasp the moral lesson we can mine.
The most obvious theme is that of greed, and like Chaucer, the most apparent analogy for greed is following that of royalty. The kings and queens of this movie's stories stink of greed, pride and conceit. The imagery weaves the greed into grotesque forms throughout the production, and it is here most of the horror is beholden unto its audience.
Tale of Tales is an arthouse film wrapped thoroughly in dark fantasy and tinges of horror. It's a film that can easily struggle to find the right audience, as it can be easily to black for the arthouse crowd and too fanciful for the horror purists. But in between is a niche that the film can call home, and there it shines masterfully as a film that beautifully portrays the ugliness of humanity.