Tag Archives: Matteo Garrone

LIST CANDIDATE: TALE OF TALES (2015)

Il Racconto dei Racconti

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Toby Jones, , Bebe Cave

PLOT: Peace and harmony reign between three neighboring kingdoms, but all is not well with the countries’ monarchs: in her desire for an heir, the Queen of Longtrellis goes to extremes; trying to avoid marrying off his daughter, the King of Highhills accidentally dooms her to wed an ogre; and the King of Strongcliff attempts to woo an unseen (and unsightly) singer that won his heart.

Still from Tale of Tales (2015)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Director Matteo Garone weaves together three differently unsettling fairy tales with a sure hand and A-list actors. Sea monsters, giant fleas, and creepy albino twins are just a few of the wondrous sights to see in this medieval fantasy. The undercurrents of death, deformity, and violence make for an unsettling amalgam when coupled with picturesque castles and countrysides.

COMMENTS: An international cast, sumptuous European locales, familial conflict—yessir, Tale of Tales screams “Film Festival” and “Art House.” Fortunately for us, attributes like bloody murder, spontaneous gestation, and youth-bringing lactation also make it scream “weird”! Indeed, looking over some of the “Weirdest Search Terms” from my time here, I suspect at the very least that last one will notch 366 another visitor from the far corners of the web. Tale of Tales delivers a strong dose classic European fairy-tales without skimping on the grisly elements that made them such macabre stories.

Using three stories from Giambattista Basile’s early 17th-century collection of Neapolitan fairy-tales, director Matteo Garrone allows an unlikely group of fantasy characters to stumble toward their fates, occasionally stumbling into each other. The Queen of Longtrellis’ (Salma Hayek) husband is slain while killing a sea beast he hunted so that his wife could devour the monster’s heart—a solution, we are told, for the couple’s infertility. Attending the funeral is the kind-hearted King of Highhills (Toby Jones) together with his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave). We also meet the lusty lord of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel), appearing from beneath the skirts of two courtesans in his coach before arriving at the procession. Things bat back and forth between their tales throughout the movie, and needless to say, the roads these monarchs and their families take are a bit bumpy.

Judging the “weird” merits of a fantasy movie can be a challenge, for while unreal things necessarily go on, that is expected from the genre. However, the defense of my bold claim in the case of Tale of Tales is made easier because of the extremes the movie goes to with its material. The story of the Queen of Longtrellis alone cements things firmly in our realm of the weird. Not only did the Queen need to eat the serpent’s heart, but during the preparation thereof (by, as specified, a solitary virgin) the young cook becomes with child herself; both women are pregnant just one day before delivering, separately, identical albino twins. Disapproving of her own son, Elias[1], fraternizing (as it were) with the peasant’s son, Jonah[2], the Queen eventually makes a second Faustian bargain resulting in, to put it crudely, “Form of Bat!” …And on top of that there’s the mightily growing flea-pet of the King of Highhills and the sad tale of the two crones who accidentally steal the heart of the King of Strongcliff.

I’m generally skeptical of the “interlocking narrative” structure found in some films — I regard it as a poor excuse to cobble together what should have been multiple short ones. However, the tone in Tale of Tales is consistent throughout, and any potential disjointedness is mitigated both by the very smooth editing work and the presence of a troupe of carnival performers who appear at key points throughout the three narratives. And did I mention there’s ? Showing up barely in time for his own demise, I like how he can always be counted on to add a touch of pathos. Tale of Tales is a beautiful, weird movie that is a reassurance to fantasy genre fans everywhere.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There was already something wonderfully weird and carnivalesque about Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s past films… Now, the director has let his circus ringmaster’s instinct flower with the bold, barmy ‘Tale of Tales’… the sheer, obstinate oddness of ‘Tale of Tales’ sends crowd-pleasers like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Hobbit’ scuttling into the shadows of the forest in terror.”–Dave Calhoun, Time Out London (contemporaneous)

  1. “Elias” is a variant of “Elijah”, the prophet known, among other things, to be the harbinger of the End of Days; he twice fills this role vis-à-vis his own parents. []
  2. That a boy conceived by the consumption of the heart of a giant fish should be named “Jonah” is, in my view, more than a bit gratifying. []

CAPSULE: REALITY (2012)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Matteo Garrone

FEATURING: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Raffaele Ferrante, Nando Paone

PLOT: A Neapolitan fishmonger’s obsession with being selected as a contestant in the Italian version of the “Big Brother” reality television show slowly drives him insane.
Still from Reality (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The critics have been casually throwing around words like surreal, dreamlike, and (most accurately) Felliniesque in regard to Reality. The case is exaggerated, however; Reality is largely based in the titular locale, with some day trips to more exotic locales for satirical and allegorical effect. The (quite lovely) final scene is the only part of the movie that might literally qualify as surreal. It’s a marvelous film and an unusual one, but not quite crazy enough to deserve the title “weird.”

COMMENTS: The unreality of modern hyperreality is the setting for Reality, which begins at an absurdly artificial fairytale wedding at a swanky hotel where the bride and groom arrive in a gilded carriage drawn by white horses. The special guest at the reception is Enzo, who has recently been kicked out of the “Grande Frattelo” house (the immensely popular Italian version of the “Big Brother” reality television franchise); he is now a beloved national hero who makes a living making appearances at wedding receptions, mall openings and nightclubs. Dressed in drag, Luciano, our genial attention-seeking protagonist, ambushes Enzo to steal a little of the spotlight, and his proximity to celebrity ignites a lust for fame in his breast. Charismatic and persistent, Luciano is convinced he is destined to appear on the TV program, a gig he’s certain would provide for his family for life and enable him to quit his job as a struggling fishmonger. His persistence leads to him making the first round of interviews at Cinecittà studios, and, taking the show’s motto of “never give up” to heart, he continues to have faith that he’ll be selected to live in the big house under twenty-four hour surveillance, even when the followup call doesn’t come. As the television season gets closer to beginning Luciano starts to break down, engaging in increasingly erratic behavior designed to grab the attention of the producers he’s convinced are secretly observing him, disguised as ordinary visitors to his fish shop. Reality features an energetic performance by the simultaneously charismatic and annoying Aniello Arena as Luciano, but the camerawork may be as big a star. Smooth, flowing long takes and crane shots take us on tours of the piazzas of old Naploi, which with its baroque balconies and stone staircases looks like a more appropriate setting for a light operetta than a reality show. As a satire, Reality takes the obvious shots at reality television and the shallowness of modern aspirations for meaningless adulation. That top layer of mockery isn’t too interesting, however. Everyone recognizes reality television is trashy. It’s in the development of an ongoing analogy between celebrity-worship and conventional religion that Reality becomes fascinating; this preoccupation also makes the film legitimately Felliniesque. “Grande Fratello” becomes an allegory for the Church: the house where the Chosen Ones dwell becomes Luciano’s vision of Heaven. What’s being satirized is not just the easy target of reality TV, but humanity’s need to be watched, whether by an audience or by the Almighty. It’s probably no coincidence that the movie starts and ends with a God’s-eye view of the action.

Perhaps the most surreal element of Reality is in its back story. During filming, star Aniello Arena was serving year twenty of a twenty-eight year prison sentence (the maximum period of incarnation in Italy). He shot his scenes during the day on work release, then returned to his cell at night.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[a] psychologically astute, dreamlike gut-punch…”–Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)