As its name suggests, Tale of Tales is an anthology film, retelling three Italian fairytales through the lens of high fantasy (and a splash of Game-of-Thrones-esque sexuality). Despite a rave reception after opening last year’s Cannes, it has little to offer beyond impressively baroque aesthetics and a few standout performances.
The three stories – of oversized fleas and magical twins and a typically-creepy Vincent Cassel – are dragged out beyond their simplistic folk tale origins, but their elongated bones lack the flesh needed to justify the film’s length. (Speaking of flesh, there’s plenty of gore, including a captivating sequence where Salma Hayek devours the heart of a sea monster). Robust characterisation is eschewed in favour of archetypes, only given shading by the cast. Toby Jones and Bebe Cave, in particular, elevate their story playing father and daughter.
The cross-cutting between three largely unconnected stories does little to distract from pacing issues, and occasionally makes the threadbare plotlines unnecessarily confusing. It made me long for the quiet, understated beauty of Lost and Beautiful, which tackles Italian folk tales with more grace and contemporary resonance. Tale of Tales would’ve benefited from that kind of subtle humanism or – at the very least – a shorter runtime.