Three stories based on dark Italian fairy tales are intertwined. Salma Hayek is a queen so desperate for a child that she will be persuaded to eat the heart of a sea monster. Vincent Cassel is a womanizing king that falls in love with the voice of an old town crone. Toby Jones is a king that begins to care less and less about his own daughter due to his fascination with a flea.
The title of fairy tale in itself is quite a misleading thing, the association with the term fairy tale now is of bright and cheerful Disney cartoons. But all of these fairy tales began life as much darker creatures – in the original Cinderella story the two ugly sisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the glass slipper. Tale of Tales harks back to these dark origins and doesn’t shy away from showing you the disturbing and the frankly nasty. The three stories are all very strange and beautiful but also brutal and at times genuinely very scary. It isn’t a horror movie, but certain sequences are horrifying.
Tale of Tales is an Italian movie that uses the English language and the script does appear to avoid dialogue, instead focusing on visual storytelling. As such the performances are all incredibly physical. Salma Hayek is in the movie prominently for about five minutes until she actually has a line I think. But she doesn’t need any, such is the strength of her physicality. But for me the standout performance here is Toby Jones, who manages to convincingly fall in love with a flea on his hand whilst his daughter performs a piece of music she wrote for him. I think Jones is a wonderful actor who despite looking a very specific way has never been the same in any two movies.
The film itself is completely beautiful and its use of colour is some of the most striking work from 2016. There is also a continuing theme of not being able to see clearly. Whether it be Vincent Cassel falling in love with a woman he has never seen, or Salma Hayek running through a maze or John C Reilly fighting the sea Monster in the murky depths, the film beautifully manages to convey perception and not being able to see things visually on screen. It’s a film that includes so much thematically that it demands repeat viewing.
Tale of tales was a real unexpected treat for me and I highly recommend you seek it out, though be warned it does get quite brutal in places.