Cannes: How Matteo Garrone's 'Tale of Tales' Came to Life

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Matteo Garrone

The latest from the two-time Granx Prix winning director has taken the Croisette by storm.

Based on the tales of 17th century writer Giambattista Basile, Tale of Tales, the latest film from Matteo Garrone is one of Cannes’ most buzzed about films.

Three kings played by John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, and Vincent Cassel run battered kingdoms, chasing after an heir, a giant flea, and women, respectively. Salma Hayek plays an obsessive mother queen and newcomer Bebe Cave wows as a princess given away in marriage to an ogre.

The film doesn’t leave out any of the gory details favored by early fairytales. The characters in Tale of Tales take a physical beating, constantly changing their skin. But Garrone blends fantasy and reality in a way that puts this film into a genre all of its own. The director, who chose just three of the dozens of stories from Basile, is hoping to later make a TV series encompassing further tales.

The stories are guided by rich cinematography, where still images allow the audience to be absorbed into the landscape, which was shot around Italy’s scenic landscape in Lazio, Puglia, Sicily, and Tuscany. Tale of Tales incredible look is thanks to cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, most known for his frequent collaborations with David Cronenberg.

“The fact that Peter worked with Cronenberg was very important, because I believe Cronenberg’s work to be close to my experience. Cronenberg and I are both obsessed by bodies and their transformation,” Garrone told The Hollywood Reporter.

“I love Peter’s work because he has the skill to be realistic, and at the same time to give you this sort of constructed, artificial impression of the images,” said Garrone. “And this is the key of the film: there is always this light balance between reality and fantasy.”

A key example of this is an early scene in the film where Reilly’s king character must slay an underwater beast in order for his barren wife (Hayek) to become pregnant. She must eat the beast’s heart after it is cooked by a virgin, of course. The scene of Hayek’s blood-soaked face diving into an enormous heart is not one soon to be forgotten.

Unlike many heroic fantasy films, Garrone’s beasts carry with them a very real amount of empathy. The audience does not cheer when Reilly’s character harpoons the underwater beast, which was asleep, minding its own business. The king is then fatally struck by the beast’s writhing tail, which was writhing and flailing in its dying agony. The film constantly plays back and forth between fantasy and reality, and it’s never quite clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.

While Cronenberg has saved many of the monsters and props from his films, currently traveling the world in an exhibition, the question remains what Garrone will do with his giant sea monster. “It’s really big, really long,” said Garrone, indicating that it would fill the entire room. “We thought for a moment to bring the monster here to Cannes, but we abandoned the idea.”

Instead, a cinema museum, which will open next year in Puglia has requested the sea monster to be a part of its permanent collection.