Everyone knows the Brothers Grimm, but what about Giambattista Basile? This Neapolitan courtier collected one of the oldest books of European fairy tales in the 1630s, and director Matteo Garrone was inspired by several of these stories to create the film Tale of Tales (2015).
This dark fantasy film tells three separate fairy tales, each set in nearby kingdoms, with the story jumping back and forth between each tale, but the characters not interacting until the very final scene. The setting is an unnamed fairy-tale land with castles and costumes that evoke the early 17th century, about 1600-1630 in Spain and Italy — much how the live-action Disney movie of Beauty and the Beast (2017) was reminiscent of 18th-century France.
Note: For those wondering if this is a horror film, no, it’s not gory or scary. Meaning, no jump cuts and very minimal spooky music (mostly fairy tale ‘tinkly’ music). There are three “monsters” only one of which kinda sorta pops out, and the other two are just a little weird / strange / unexpected, and all of them are in very short scenes. Only two scenes have blood, and it’s just incidental, not gruesome. This isn’t a kid’s fairy tale movie, but it’s a very thoughtful, quirky, ‘what the heck is going on?’ kind of film. Never boring, that’s for sure.
Costumes in Tale of Tales
The look of Tale of Tales is incredibly elaborate, from being filmed on location in AH-MAY-ZING castles all across Italy to the STUNNING costumes by designer Massimo Cantini Parrini with help from the atelier of Tirelli Costumi. While I will, of course, want to focus on the fancy frocks, I have to admit that even the peasanty lower-class costumes were fantastically done with great attention to detail, not to mention fine 17th-century silhouettes everywhere.
“I studied history of costume, but I consider myself an archaeologist in the industry. Matteo [the director] has left me free: not to mix different eras, but to reread that era under different keys. The fable is fantasy, but I did not want to take me away from the truth. In addition, I always take into account the actor, his body, his tastes: I ask what colors he loves, if he feels comfortable in my clothes … It’s like I have to dress two souls: that of the character and that of the actor.”
In addition to the historical aspect, the designs reflect the differences between each of the three stories. As Parrini said in LoudVision (via Google Translate):
“We have characterized the three worlds also through the use of colors, above all to help the spectators to orient themselves within a very fragmented narrative. Thus the world of the Queen played by Salma Hayek is dark, reminiscent of Spanish atmospheres; for that of the King Vincent Cassell we focused on red as the color of passion; the English Toby Jones, however, lives in a colder world, painted with gray, the tones of the water.”
One exception to this structured palette was the brilliant red gown the queen, played by Salma Hayek, wears while playing with her grown son in the labyrinth. The shape is a mishmash of historical styles, at least compared to the more consistent early 17th-century gowns she wears throughout her tale. In Amica, Parrini noted how this was an important choice:
“Salma’s red and black dress in the labyrinth must almost blind the spectator: it represents all her happiness to finally have the much desired son. All the lace and embroidery are original: not from the seventeenth century, but from the eighteenth. I found them in London and in Romania. I like that the fabrics, the buttons are also true. The archaeologist returns…”
Even the costumes that aren’t meant to stand out are stand-outs, at least in terms of quality and historical references. Massimo Cantini Parrini didn’t use the fairy-tale stories as an excuse to go wild with modern fabrics or techniques. If anything, he insisted on giving the costumes references to a specific historical period within a well-defined range, and then added small exaggerations (like big collars) plus aging and distressing for an otherworldly look.
Have you indulged in the Tale of Tales?