Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales ★★★★½

I loved this surrealist Boschian-Grimm fever dream. Ever since my third grade teacher, Mr. Kelly, read stories from The Magic Tree aloud to my classroom (a book that my sister eventually found at a used book sale and gave to me as a gift, a very personal, emotional gift), I've been chained heart and soul to the phantasmagoria of fairy tales. This is decidedly an adult fairy tale, but the truth is, all fairy tales started off as just stories for adults about humanity's absurdity tied with our desire for the strange. Over time, those stories became cautionary tales, then bedtime stories to teach children how to behave. But we were all children once. And there comes a day for all of us when our innocence is lost.

There are shots here so breathtaking they immediately belong alongside some of my favorite scenes in any film in cinema; there is an immense, singular aesthetic at work here, thanks to director Matteo Garrone and DP Peter Suschitzky, costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini, and the art directors (Marco Furbatto, Massimo Pauletto, Gianpaolo Ruffino), makeup (a group of some 18 different people) and set designer (Alessia Anfuso), that plunges us into the visual language of an otherworld, a simultaneously ghastly and magical landscape. A sea monster asleep in the murky fog of a riverbottom, the impossibly long red hair of an enchanted maiden, the hazy aftermath of a Bacchanalian revelry orchestrated by an insatiable king, the dreamlike visages of two very special, very strange albino twins, castles on the pinnacles of mountaintops, Salma Hayek gorging on the gigantic heart of a beast, Toby Jones feeding raw meat to a flea the size of a large dog. I've rarely seen anything that entranced me so utterly.

The women suffer very much in this tale. Women in fairy tales are often the victims of extreme violence--like they are in real life--be it emotional or physical, and though it broke my heart often, I knew it to be a mirror to the fairy tales I experienced as a child, just starker, and more honest, but without needless gratuity. Life is immense pain for us and yet we survive, our defiance almost supernatural in itself. All the best fairy tales know this; women survive, above all. Women are magic.

I really loved this. I want more films like this. People talk about how great Tarsem Singh's The Fall is a lot; I think this is my The Fall.

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