Out here in Germany, I have different Netflix offerings than in the US. I’m not sure if the ugly-beautiful Tale of Tales is available back in the states, but based on the star-studded American cast who made this dark fantasy film come to life, the chances seem good you’ll be able to find it there or through Amazon. It debuted in 2015, and was the first English offering by an Italian director named Mateo Garrone. Though there are a few recognizable fairy tale tropes here and there, on the whole this is an incredibly imaginative and well-executed trio of intertwined tales.
The first characters you meet are a king (John C. Reilly) and queen (Selma Hayek) who want nothing more than to have a child. The queen’s obsession sends her husband into the path of a river monster. Though she does eventually get the child she desires through supernatural means, another boy is born to a servant and is a twin to the prince.
In another story in another kingdom, a pair of wrinkled old washerwomen (Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael) are mistaken for a beautiful young maiden by the lusty king (Vincent Cassel) because one of the sisters has such a lovely voice. The attention and the jewels are too good to pass up, and they manage to keep the monarch from learning the truth for a time. But when he summons the maiden to his bedchamber, the ruse falls apart with near-death consequences. Only the pity of witch spells happiness for one sister, and nothing but anguish for the other.
In the third tale, a king (Toby Jones) doesn’t want his only daughter to marry and leave him alone. He fosters a friendship with the most unlikely of companions – a flea. It grows to giant proportions and eventually dies of natural causes. He has it skinned and sets a challenge that only the man who can correctly identify the pelt may marry his daughter. The scheme seems full-proof until an ogre arrives and can smell the truth. The princess is dragged deep into the mountains and must find a way to free herself from the creature’s clutches.
What I Thought of Tale of Tales
Any movie that can surprise me gets an automatic five stars in my book. The visuals, the characters, the plots – all of them were equal parts creepy and intriguing. This is definitely not a movie for the kids even if it is a set of quasi-fairy tales. There is both incredible beauty and abject cruelty, and anything but happily ever after for most of the characters. If you like your fantasy on the dark side, I can’t recommend it enough.