Tale of Tales (2015)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

This story does not follow a usual pattern, but it is a rich and nuanced set of barely connected tales that illustrate harsh symbolic truths… in the way of the old European faerie tales.

When the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) cannot conceive a son, she turns to a wise one for council. He tells her that her husband must slay a sea monster. A virgin should cook it alone in an abandoned kitchen. And then, when the queen eats its heart, she will become pregnant. He failed to mention the virgin will also have a son—identical to hers. And as the two white-haired, sea-loving boys grow up together, their mother becomes jealous of their affection…

In a castle not far away, the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) listens to his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) strum a tune on her mandolin. At first, the music absorbs him, but then he notices how much it entertains a flea on his finger. The king becomes so enamored of the flea, he continues to feed it until it grows into a large creature. Little does he know what his foolish obsession will force upon his beloved child…

Strolling about his balcony one night, the King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) overhears glorious music. He catches sight of a maiden in the town and follows her to a locked door. He sends her presents through the window and begs her to come out that he may fulfill his lust. She rebuffs him. What the king does not know is he has not found a maiden, but a crone…

In a normal film, these stories would intersect more than they do—the characters make only casual appearances in one another’s lives, but each tale is independent and set in the same world. It also has an ambiguous ending that some interpret as a sequel, but is merely… the end of events. Original faerie tales were dark, sinister, and contained symbolic manifestations of moral lessons. In the hands of this skilled European director, the result is a perfect translation of this onto the big screen. The first tale revolves around jealousy and how it turns you into a monster, killing your love. The second is about obsession and how it can rob you of the things you should love most. The third is about lust and jealousy, and how it ruins lives—especially if you judge someone on appearances.

These are not happy tales. They are not Disney versions. There is tremendous loss, pain, and violence. Trolls that crush people’s skulls. Such a desperate drive for youth and beauty, a woman has herself flayed alive. Careless kings having ugly people thrown out of windows. There’s nudity, sex, and occasional gore. And yet, the individual stories fascinated me. They’re provocative, deep, and full of intricate truths. It helps that the movie has such an exquisite presentation—a slow start where you can look at everything, from a girl’s glorious red mane to the deep reds of the queen’s gown. If you like deep tales without happy endings, and go in understanding these are separate tales intended to make you think (so they do not explain everything, and many leave off in interesting places), you may enjoy it. Oh, and one tale does end well.

Sexual Content:
LOTS. An early scene (minutes into the film) features bare-breasted woman groping each other and tongue-kissing in a coach; when it stops, a man pops up into the camera (he's been performing oral sex on them under their skirts). Another bare-breasted woman in the king's presence later; he gropes her breast and tries to kiss her, but she's half asleep. We see an old, naked woman gluing her skin folds together so she can sleep with the king. He climbs into bed with her naked. When he wakes up the next morning, and uncovers her nakedness, he throws her out a window. She transforms into a beautiful (naked) woman in the woods. He brings her back to his castle; they have an extended sex scene with nudity (while someone watches). An ogre throws his new "wife" onto a bed and climbs on top of her.
 
Language:
None noted.
 
Violence:
A man stabs a sea creature and it takes a long time to die, flailing around and turning the water crimson with blood. He cuts out its heart and the queen gorges on it. An ogre crushes people to death, smashing their skulls and strangling them. A woman slits a man's throat and returns home covered in blood. A man stabs a winged creature and leaves it to die. A woman asks to be flayed alive; we hear her screaming as the man starts, then see her walk to a castle drenched in blood and sinew. 

Other:
One queen consults a seer.