Tale of Tales

This is right up my street – baroque, grotesque fairy tales with astonishing attention to detail and with the special effects dialled right down. Guillermo del Toro would be proud of the sets and costumes, but Tale of Tales is less controlled than a Del Toro film, where ideas are carefully explicated. Matteo Garrone is more relaxed on set, happy as he says to follow his gut.

The film is an adaptation of a 17th century collection of Italian fairy tales that inspired the Brothers Grimm. They are early, more adult versions of the child-friendly stories we're familiar with. Garrone's focus seems to be on the workings of desire in women, as teenagers, mothers and spinsters, who want a husband, a child and their beauty back respectively. All three get a version of what they want – which doesn't last.

The film isn't coy about its theme: violent desires end violently. But whether it's better to be content with your lot isn't clear, at least in Garrone's retelling. Selma Hayek's overbearing mother engineers her own downfall. But the heroine of 'the Flea' (which departs quite a bit from the original tale) kills the ogre, humbles her father, and becomes Queen. Desire is an inevitable part of the human personality. It's often (self-)destructive, but sometimes it works out anyway.

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