Saturday, May 28, 2016

Some thoughts about Tale of Tales (2015)

Original title: Il racconto dei racconti

I’ve most often seen Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of three tales taken from the fairy tale collection of Giambattista Basile described as an attempt to get back to the roots of non-realist Italian art cinema, and while I certainly see more than just a bit of Fellini after his neo-realist phase in this the director that really comes to my mind here is Walerian Borowczyk. The way Garrone pictures sexuality, unhealthy obsessions and truly horrible things in here is generally not as explicit as Borowczyk could get, and certainly not quite as focussed on sexuality, yet his approach to his themes, as well as the way the film glides from the whimsical to the erotic to the outright horrifying seems quite in parallel to Borowczyk at the height of his powers to me.

I really admire how Garrone seems to zoom in on the weirdest parts of fairy tales presenting it all not with the gesture of somebody who is showing us something deeply grotesque but with the matter-of-factness of someone showing us the grotesque as the quotidian. There’s something incredibly beguiling about a film presenting a king (this one played by Toby Jones) secretly raising a flea in his bedroom as a pet until it’s about as big as a cow as if this sort of thing were just to be expected, not hindering anyone from reading this as a metaphor but certainly inviting us to just take the film at its word. It’s also quite typical for the film that it is exactly this tale that’ll turn out to have some of the more horrifying moments in a film that doesn’t shy away from truly horrifying things beside the poetic, and the sad and the joyful, suggesting that in this world (and every other, one imagines) comedy and tragedy grow from the same root.

The film never falls into the trap of being sumptuous for sumptuousness’s sake either – everything we see and hear has more than just one function, and the film doesn’t bother to explain itself (as neither do fairy tales, really), leaving it up to its audience to interpret intentions, choose one’s own understandings and inhabit the film in one way or the other.

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