Grim Tales

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I had heard Matteo Garrone’s GOMORRAH was great, but with my usual untimeliness had never gotten around to seeing it, but TALE OF TALES proved impossible to resist. I just liked the sound of it — it felt like he’d made a film for me.

And my response is weird — most of what I have to say about the film would be nitpicking criticisms —

It’s based on three separate stories, intercut, intersecting at start and finish — it would have been easy to make them interrelate more — none of the stories is full satisfying — the dialogue is ugly, neither fairy-tale archaic nor naturalistic, and it’s full of awkward modernisms like “disrespect” used as a verb — intercutting the stories means it takes forever for any of them to develop —

But oh! this film is GORGEOUS.

Also nicely acted, with a fascinating multinational cast. The director, admirably, doesn’t care that Salma Hayek is Mexican. So what? Vincent Cassel is French.

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But it’s the gorgeousness that carries it. The fairy tales all develop in intriguing ways and throw out many opportunities for surreal, visceral imagery (a giant flea; an ogre’s cave; a sea monster’s heart served on a platter; an old woman glueing her skin back in flaps to give herself a medieval body-lift (an interesting audience reaction here: the women all laughed, we gentlemen maintained a reticent silence).

“[Producer] Jeremy Thomas has such great taste in films,” said Fiona.

“And filmmakers,” I added.

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4 Responses to “Grim Tales”

  1. Judy Dean Says:

    Dialogue? I didn’t hear any dialogue.

  2. Heh. I’m afraid it’s there, but I agree it’s best not to listen too closely. The actors are all really good, though, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they have of managing their awkward lines.

    Agree that the visuals are compensation enough, but I miss the days when Fellini would get someone like Anthon Burgess to help out.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Penguin Classics published a new translation of Garrone’s source material—-the 17th century Neapolitan folktales—in time for the film’s release. In the original, the stories are linked by a Scheherazade-style framing device. That might have been unwieldy onscreen, but I agree with you that the film’s solution was unsatisfying. It might have been better to shorten the stories, add a few more, and present them one at a time.

    I also agree regarding the dialogue. The originals are told in Neapolitan dialect and come off as very salty (in translation anyway!) and I’d rather have heard the characters speak in pungent Neapolitan with slangy subtitles. I can’t blame Garrone for using English to reach the international market, but he’s made his adaptation blander than his source.

    The imagery you note is all from the original tales. Garrone rewrote the endings of the first and third tales, presumably to make them more acceptable to 21st century attitudes toward class and gender, but the new endings are again blander, and lack the weird otherness that made the fairy tales interesting in the first place.

  4. Thanks for reminding me to check this one out!

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