Tale of Tales Indulges in 17th-Century Fairy Tales


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.

Tale of Tales (2015)

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.

Tale of Tales (2015)


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.

Tale of Tales (2015)

The King & Queen in black & gold.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Tons of elaborate detail — trims upon trims, all the correct layers of clothing, everything looks gorgeous from sides and back too.

This shouldn’t be surprising, as Parrini studied with masters including Piero Tosi and Gabriella Pescucci. In an interview with Amica (via Google Translate) Parrini said of his work on Tale of Tales:

“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…”

Tale of Tales (2015)

The relatively simple cut of this gown shows off the color and embroidery.

Tale of Tales (2015)
Tale of Tales (2015)

It’s all drama with those sleeves and train.

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.

Tale of Tales (2015)

These twins have doubly excellent outfits, down to the finely detailed shirt and doublet buttons.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Every extra in every scene is perfectly gowned and coiffed.

Tale of Tales (2015)

For example, random lady here, check out this hair.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Princess Violet’s bodice is exquisitely slashed.

Tale of Tales (2015)

And her hair is ADORABLE.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Sweet, innocent pale blue — this gown will get trashed.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Do you all see the cartridge-pleating on that skirt?

Tale of Tales (2015)

And the embroidery and insertion-work on his shirt? Also note the portraits — there’s your historical documentation, right there.

Tale of Tales (2015)


Tale of Tales (2015)

The fabric, the lace, the piping on the slashes, that is some fabulous detail work.

Tale of Tales (2015)

This gown is seen fleetingly in the film — and yet, it’s still freaking awesome.

Tale of Tales (2015)

Again with the perfect ‘do.

Tale of Tales (2015)


Have you indulged in the Tale of Tales?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Facebook Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

20 Responses

  1. hsc

    Thanks for posting this. After reading your description and seeing these photos, this just got moved into my Netflix streaming queue.

    This looks absolutely amazing costume- and set-wise.

  2. Kendra

    Yay! I keep wanting to watch this, but feel like YOU are the best person to review it, so I’ve been waiting for you to do it first! OMG THE BLOND’S HAIR AND GOWNS LUST LUST LUST LUST

  3. Sarah Faltesek

    I saw this in theaters once it was released in the states, and LOVED it. I’d been salivating over the trailer for a year at that point, and I’m pretty sure my pupils dilated to the size of an anime character’s for the duration of the film.

  4. mmcquown

    I’m going to be looking for this one! Salma Hayek & the 17th century are too much to ignore — even if she is in an 18th-century gown.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s a little mishmashy but not a lot. The costumes are surprisingly consistent to a 17th-c aesthetic, & altho’ I didn’t take screencaps of the lower-class garb, even those are quite accurate & wonderfully detailed.

  5. revknits

    thanks for the review, just added to my netflix. And Tulip Fever is now available on the same service.

    I’m wondering if it might be helpful to note (maybe every couple of months) when films that have been reviewed show up on streaming like Netflix and Prime…

  6. Susan Pola Staples

    Gee and I dropped Netflix for Amazon Prime with Brittbox & Acorn. Hmm maybe I’ll add it again.

  7. Charity

    I saw this had been added to Netflix, and threw it in my queue; I’ll certainly watch it now!

  8. Alys Mackyntoich

    This is amazing and now I must find it! Thank you!

  9. cici

    Respectfully requesting a Vincent Cassel edition of MCM. Because swoon.

  10. mkaufmann2009

    I loved the costumes and the castles but the disjointed storyline just left me cold.

  11. Janette

    Watched it recently and really enjoyed it. It is such a rich, layered film and looks gorgeous as well. I felt as though I needed to rewatch immediately just to get a fuller appreciation of it.
    I loved that red dress.

    • Saraquill

      ETA: Watched the movie. Definitely not for little ones, and I pity those who watch it by accident.

  12. SarahV

    I just loved the bit at the very end when Violet gets her big plot reveal. That was such a fabulous moment.

  13. Ayla

    Yes and I love it! Its so wonderfully weird, and even though I know nothing of costuming I fell in love with all the clothing the first time I watched it 🌸