‘Tale of Tales’
Director:
Matteo Garrone
Stars: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

In “Tale of Tales,” it doesn’t take long for Salma Hayek to gorge lustily on a sea monster’s massive heart. 

Matteo Garrone’s Eurotrash fairy tale spectacular gets its oddest oddity out of the way fast, but there’s plenty more where that came from. It has emo ogres and giant fleas and old crones who can turn into hotties. There are caves and cliffs and castles and carriages and boobs. As you can tell, it’s a fairy tale movie for adults and not a little bit campy — a deliberately artificial world of obvious CG skyscapes and even more obvious puppets, of acting and accents that range all over creation, all while speaking dialogue that sounds translated from Italian to English through an app.

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This is a change of pace from “Gomorrah,” the film with which Garrone made his bones. That international hit was a detached but anguished spread digging into the miseries of Italy’s crime syndicate, tracing the tentacles that slime up against every part of the country. “Tale of Tales” is lighter fare, and it doesn’t try as hard for think piece-y significance. On its face it’s just a collection of tales. The source is Neapolitan author Giambattista Basile’s collection of tales whimsical yet macabre, whose wares predate the Brothers Grimm and include nascent versions of “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and more. None of those make Garrone’s cut. He only grabs three stories out of the books’ 49, each chosen, it seems, because they haven’t been told and re-told to death — and because, well, they make for some wack imagery.

Then again, feel free to over-read into it. Each tale, mixed together through cross-cutting, concerns parenthood, sex and hubristic volleys to improve one’s lot. They’re each set amongst royalty. There are three kingdoms, each with their own problems. The queen played by Hayek eats that beastie organ because a towering, ghostly pale necromancer told her it would result in a child. The lustful king of another land (Vincent Cassel, natch) gives up his carousing and threesomes when he thinks he’s found the babe among babes — unaware she’s actually a hideous geriatric (Hayley Carmichael). The third, played by that most fairy tale-friendly actor Toby Jones, is so enamored with his pet flea that he’s oblivious when his daughter (Bebe Cave) has been absconded with by a lonely but hardly pacifistic ogre (Guillaume Delauey).

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Jokey yet mildly serious and even, thanks to a Hail Mary pass at the end, melancholic and sad, “Tale of Tales” rewards a simple grooving on its casual Euro-weirdness, where even the famous stars — especially Hayek, but especially John C. Reilly, as her doomed king — looking lost and confused is part of the fun. Slowly but only somewhat surely, a greater intent materializes. Ideas start to bounce around these otherwise disconnected yarns. There soon arrive heavy notes of cosmic insignificance. Wealth and power don’t inculcate its royal characters from death and loss and heartbreak. Indeed, like their lowly groundlings, they can easily be replaced. The necromancer who haunts Hayek’s queen talks about the world requiring an equilibrium; a birth always necessitates a death. Life is both meaningless and determined by forces outside one’s control, or simply by a sadistic storyteller. “Tale of Tales” brings not just nudity and ogre maulings back to fairy tale movies, but also death, pitiless and inevitable. 

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge