Tale of Tales (2015): Retelling Old Stories

Ever since the popularity of Shrek (and the resurgence of the Disney Princess) people have been more and more interested in fairy tales. And the movie, Tale of Tales is a “dark fantasy” period piece based on three tales from the Italian Pentamerone.

Warning: This is a movie for adults. It’s definitely rated R. There is plenty of violence, blood, nudity and sex.

When I watched the trailer for this movie, I was intrigued. It seemed to put forth a few ideas, mainly that for a child to survive someone has to die and that’s an interesting concept. In reality, the trailer had very little to do with the movie at all.

On the plus side, this movie has beautiful costumes of the Baroque and Elizabethan period. The sets were actual Italian castles from that era. And the effects were more practical than CGI, but they held up decently.

On the minus side, that’s about all good I can say about it.

Now, if you love fairy tales that are told almost exactly like they are in the Pentameron or in Grimm. You will probably like this movie. This movie pulls no punches on how violent and horrible that the original tales could be. The three chosen tales were The Enchanted Doe, the Flea and the Flayed Old Lady. These tales all share a common theme about obsession so it makes sense to tell them together.

Except, they weren’t told together other than the fact they were in the same movie. There was no effort to tie the tales together narratively. Nor well, was there any expanded narrative to the movie. It was like someone forgot to write a script and direct the actors to act or show us what is going on. There was very little dialogue for a two hour long movie. There are amazing actors in this movie, and they’ve been given next to nothing to work with. The movie felt flat and because it was flat is was boring.

Written fairy tales by their nature are rather short and sweet/horrifying and to the point. Character motivations aren’t expounded on and half the time the principal players barely have names. And that’s all well in good for stories from centuries ago, yet, when you are retelling them in a two hour long format, you have plenty of time to give them more depth. Because honestly, the human condition hasn’t changed that much.

And that was my problem. I could relate to a few of the characters, only by projecting what I would feel instead of having the actors show me what they are feeling. Or there being story to show me instead of dialog telling me. To an extent, I understood the Queen from the Enchanted Doe with her longing for a child, and I definitely related to the boys who wanted to be friends and kept being torn apart by a mother who wanted all of her child’s love for herself. But not because it was shown to me on the screen. The Flayed Old Lady’s desire to be young and beautiful is a common female desire and her desire for carnal love. I felt horrible for her sister who went crazy without her sister around to take care of her. Well, Princess Violet I could have done without. She wasn’t that great of a character and the ogre of the tale had no reason to want a human female for wife unless he planned on eating her.

The movie hopped between stories without any explanation or reason. At times, I had a hard time even knowing who was important. For instance the Lusty King. I had no idea he was important until he said he was a king. Because the stories weren’t intertwined or even related besides setting these might have been better as 3 smaller short films.

And to make matters worse, two of the three stories didn’t have any satisfactory endings like they did in the Pentameron. The two boys separate after defeating a monster together for no reason what so ever. The flayed old lady runs off at the end as the spell wears off and we have no idea what happened to her or if the lusty king went after her. The only story that got a satisfactory ending was the Flea. Violet escaped the ogre and was crowned Queen. (Where the other Queens and Kings attended? No world building here folks.)

I was very disappointed. I wished the movie had an overall narrative arc with developed characters I could sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I’d watch Pan’s Labyrinth again (and that pushed my gore factor) because of the mesmerizing characters and gripping storytelling before I rewatched this movie.

If anything, this movie is good for exposing people to fairy tales that aren’t in Brothers Grimm. I just couldn’t get into it and can’t recommend it outside of looking at the beautiful costumes and castles. And that, you can do in stills.

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