Tale of Tales : A Film Review

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Director, Matteo Garrone. Cast, Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Toby Jones, Bebe Cave, Guillaume Delaunay, Hayley Carmichael, Christian Lees, Alba Rohrwacher, Massimo Ceccherini.  Duration 2hrs 14 mins.

In English. An Italy/France co-production.  Cert. 15.

Height of Nonsense violently rendered

Even at five foot two inches Salma Hayek is in anyone’s eyes a fullsome vision so becoming a Queen bee is no stretch.  She is centrally the Queen Of Longtrellis who creates through witchery and incubation an albino son. The King to her melancholic Queen is Longtrellis, obidient (Reilly), then King of Strongcliff, sex crazed (Cassel) and King of Highhills, a ninkcompoo (Jones), Princess Violet (Bebe Cave) whose performance bricks and twists with ferocious skillful intensive acting as Jones intelligent self driven daughter.  Fellow Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (Youth) who bizarrely lived in the same building as the 47 year old Matteo Garrone without exchanging more than pinched expressions, due to attributed rivalry, has followed the theme of age obsession, most recently in the purely forthright Youth, set in a recuperation setting without compromise to modern cosmetic rituals and is probably best remembered by the naked walk of Madalina Diana Ghenea to the pool Caine and Kietel rest their bones poolside. This film is good looking but is at the other extremity – compelling throughout with the three stories interwoven it is very engaging visually.  Unfortunately it falls down by the injudicious skipping from one story to the next.  There may be a chronology to it but each time a switch is made the viewer may dislike it because they were getting into or carried away by the previous story.  A loose narrative; and Matteo Garrone said they are loosely based on the originals, leads us into calamity, conflict, twists and turns.  There are many, many dramatic shifts well choregraphed and delightfully executed. The good old terror strikes and the use of violence is sometimes heavy and of extreme visual effect.  Similarly the actors, from the poster girl chewing a heart with a bloodied face are part gore and part satirical.  It’s a cut throat world they live in and Matteo Garrone compares it to the present.  He should get out less. Comparisons with monarchies, governments and regimes and feudal terrorists apart it is a more civilised time we live in and factually so in war statistics.

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Strands of Golden Royalty

Three strands of royalty are each splendidly baroque fairytales .  The third strand has Toby Jones daughter taken into marriage with a cave-dwelling ogre (Guillaume Delaunay).  This is perhaps the funniest and more adhered to narrative.      It uses special effects to provide a fourth character – after Toby the King, Violet his unattached husband seeking daughter, an unsuitable candidate in Guillaume as the ogre – comes a flea which as legend has it has supernatural strength.  At least that’s what school taught us with them apparently towing small carriages.  The locations are stunning and this story has dense woodland and steep mountains as well as a hexagonal turreted castle in a barren hot dry landscape with more plain interiors than the others.  As locations go I noted down the credits to the areas. It listed as an Italian French co-production and locations, Sicily, Tuscany, Sermoneta, Alcatara.  This enterprise of the Production team is a major attempt at making Italy once again a renowned producer of quality cinema.  It looks to be an attempt at establishing ‘studio’ based film making; some of this was shot in Rome and the titles hinted at the tax incentives utilised and may steer any unscrupulous ‘investors or hangers on’ – Matteo Garrones Gomarrah concerned the Mafia but I’m not suggesting for a moment that cinema could be infiltrated by such nerdowells, heavens no!


This genuine skilfull adaptation of the 17th-century yarns of Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile whose followers were Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm becomes a bold retelling without using special effects, using minimal post edit manipulation.  The previous Mafia tale Gomarrah was a unique insightful form and here Matteo Garrone has an equally gritty approach as that ‘noir’ thriller and seems not so long ago but is of 2008 vintage.  Decant sets and adult themes are provocatively temptingly and unflinchingly choregraphed in this piece of three fairytales woven from the same surreal cloth.  All the actors play it straight which itself is a tough ask of self control but a reason it works.  They dispatch ludicrous situations in sumptuous settings and with nonchalant theatre as if it is reality.  Real as – feed a flea to become as big as a human, or real as – eating the heart of a dragon cooked by a virgin, hard to find there presumably to procreate or real as – a fight a sea monster for dinner.


Sermoneta


Roccascalegna Castle, Roccascalegna, Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy


Castel del Monte, Andria, Bari, Apulia, Italy Toby Jones therefore IS the man from del Monte.  Who’d have guessed!

  

Bebe Cave

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The Universe must obey our will.

Royalty has its pioneers and in Elizabethan England, particularly London the Queen set the tone for opulence and luxury. She had over three thousand dresses. Taking her inspiration from 1509-1547 Henry VIII House of Tudor, (1547-1553 Edward VI House of Tudor, 1553-1558 Mary I House of Tudor) 1558-1603 Elizabeth I House of Tudor was the fashionista of state brocade, lace, sables, baubles, magnificent surroundings and a mountain of learned volumes bound in velvet of Greek and Latin and more adorning the libraries. It is these allusions of court this film aspires to emulate in its decorous decant era setting design. Spanish, French and Italian all had an aesthetic seeking no comparison.

With every design of any object there is a rule not to be initially the same as anything seen before though all objects have their roots in others and are inspired by the lineage of design.  Everyone wants to stand out and be different, to define themselves by their surroundings and what they alter their appearance with.  Hunter S. Thompson had an opposite view, maybe because the first has limited prospect of being obtained and even exceptional wealth has its limits – just look at Donald Trump and his apparent 700 billion dollars – growing diminishing depending on who you listen too – HST said something along the lines of ‘there’s no point in turning up for your own funeral looking great and well preserved, in the finest condition because you looked after yourself, you could just as easily take the risks, experience difficult and challenging things, take one or two or more wrong turns and turn up and be proud to say, to yourself, My, that’s been one helluva ride!’  

Palazzo Vecchio


So while it speaks of the purity of a lust for finding all the life preserving comforts – with the cost of obtaining them – it speaks also of acting on instinct alone and tempting fate where all is thrown up in the air to land who knows where – the opposites overlap and create choices that confound.  Here the vision is caught with a sense of the fairytales realism in pursuit of the impossible dream.  It for example places great store by the creation of a Prince or Princess, except paternalistic politics of gender status are played out here as they would have been in the Italy of Giambattista Basile and right up to the present.  So no feminist vibe there then.  Also the drama of the settings is organic as well as man made, with ogres, creatures, the power of nature stating its case and the power of it is also on the ‘menu’.  Strong structural competing forces pressing on humanities composure.  The composure of being in charge of the grand magnificent universal truth commanding it to obey. The alchemy of material is one of mans finest achievements empowering as it does the molecular recalibration of our ability to exist longer than the ascribed predicting centuries.  It is also the author of an population apocalypse not awaited but upon us.

 Donnafugata Sicily       

and above right Castel del Monte, Andria, Bari, Apulia, Italy.  Toby Jones therefore is the man from del Monte!

The films theme(s)
The theme unhooking here in the film is as he Matteo Garrone suggests in interviews, one of contemporary vice also the words”violent desires can only be satisfied by violence” are central to the films pressing prescience.  Moral compacting of stories about vanity, desire and greed from the screaming fairytales of old and blood-spattered Neapolitan functional spleen bursting enormity of human depraved acts the film settles for less improvisation and Matteo Garrone manages to work the sets, the actors through much preparation and his abandonment of an earlier gift and skill for painting here becomes a mechanism to make you feel the emotions through a) The straight acting b) the visual feast of imagination realised without artifice of usual cinematic proportions.  Giambattista Basile’s “Pentamerone,” predates and even inspired many of the classics in repeated interpretations today through Disney from Rapunzel to Cinderella. As unhinged as the poet’s five-volume collection aggregated 50 fantastical stories where, it spun a spell of contemporary Neopolitain behavior with wildness, sexual insatiable appetites, animalistic projection, imploding violence. Little change out of the Euro or even lurid Old Britain there then.

The formula of fairytale moralising is ditched here to expose the Directors own mantra relating to the cosmetic values of life employed across the world with brand ‘Italy’ high most in the stakes of ‘model’ unique. Not exactly Shakespearian in analysis but fundamentally observant nevertheless. Audiences will extract therefore a more loosely picked narrative and incidental lesson of accepted values with these desires stronger than the individuals they belong to.  The person is to take a message of a self commanded life not measured against these extrodinarily hyper real visually stimulating tales propose.


Sermoneta

Matteo Garrone commands his own authoritive mark and what is interesting is the fact he has left creating paintings for his own reasons and invested that creative verve in cinema which we can enjoy and frankly be entertained by.  It is a very interesting take on things relying for its heft on instinct.  The feel of the film has gaps and occasional annoyances.

It matters not as this is the purpose of film, to reach into narrative and extract a new take on aspects of – ourselves mostly.  For the film maker he is intent on entertaining and doing so with an allegorical set of stories that hopefully bizarrely met with resonances in our lives.  This he and the whole cast and huge team delivering it do so handsomely.

Even the Star Wars and Fantasy genres approach comparisons with our own lives also, being necessary for audiences.

In interviews he cites Fellini’s studio Casanova and the giallo of Mario Bava as cinematic influences. The biggest influence by far comes from Goyas Los Caprichos, prints about 18th-century Spain saying “I kept them with me throughout the film. In those drawings I found all I was looking for.”  That is a very informative unselfish insight to the way the work comes out and is realised.  He also rejects because of the many constraints being tempted by the big magnets of American budget films.  Here he has a crafted indulgence in Englsh which defies many principles of not just life but theatre.

Conclusion ####4

Phantasmagorical sumptuous piece of emblematic Italian cinema interwoven with Italian fairytale folklore which predates and therefore informs the works produced by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.  While this set of three stories of Kings and Queens are only very loosely related; they come together and it is not of any import, at a funeral and a wedding as far as I can detect.  The stories interweave not intersect and follow the fables according to director Matteo Garrone only loosely and his take on them is to deliver high grade, romantic settings in a believable set of surreal type environments which he creates using old screen crafts.  There is one period interior which is the setting for the Queen Longtrellis, which I take to be utilizing high tech printed white geometric wall paneling with a decorative colored dado which is theatrical and beautifully understated focusing on the drama it is within and not typical of any period though I’m no expert.  It’s just so intelligent a way to convey the intricacy of the environments.  Architecturally other exteriors interiors contrasting are well tended genuine period pieces well chosen.   The actors all play it without laughing at its bonkers themes and where it calls for blood and gore they welcome it with open engagement.  A very important element of one of the three stories requires two actresses to don prosthetics to make them the ugly mother and daughter in a reclusive village hideaway.  Cassels is the King to encounter this pair and it is a centrally brilliant piece of original fable telling with very unusual and beautifully delivered though fractured storylines.  This is a very strong piece of original film making contrasting as said previously – on the same theme of youth and vigour – with the other Italian approach Youth – and neither subtract from the the,Es but expand them showing cultural Italy is as good as ever.
John Graham

15 June 2016

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from and including 17 June through to 23 June 2016.

Serena : A Film Review

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Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu, Sam Reid, Conleth Hill, Charity Wakefield, Douglas Hodge, Christian McKay, Philip Zanden, Ned Dennehy.

Serena
The pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are is a proven combination. Having been made in 2012 by the Director and part Producer, the Danish attendee to close detail and a comprehensive storyline without too much diversion is Susanne Bier. A distributed is clearly now in place and we get to see what has been held back for a few years.

This is a period drama set in East America, the North Carolina Forests, soon to become State Parks. The time is 1929 and the colonial fore bearers are gone and the land is allocated on a lost continental basis. The victors took the spoils of much land and the forests were an enormously valuable natural commodity. Like the mining, oil and agricultural wealth grasped post civil war, some winners were founded sufficiently to create their own banking systems.

The character George Pemberton (Cooper) is a young entrepreneur with a vision for making heaps of money from deforesting large sections of forestry which is mainly relatively cheap and easily accessible Pinewood.
He has enlisted a partner to share the risks and also to be an additional pair of eyes.
This is the redoubtable, advisor Buchanan (David Dencik) whose homoerotic attraction to George is a slow burner ignited by the return after a trip to retrieve more funds from a Bank, of George with a wife. Swept up from an encounter his sister who is in the closed elitist society set, is the formidable attractive, fair and astute alluring Serena. The fair fine features of Serena are not reduced as she puts a white horse through its paces.
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Her commanding positive teamwork with the animal are enough to impress George from a distance. George’s sister gives him the tale of her loss of her entire family. From her father a large scale timber baron whose empire was many leagues above the North Carolina operation George has started.
To call a woman feisty is I am given to understand an unfettered insult and demeaning as often applied ingloriously to women.
Hot, quarrelsome, courageous and single minded on the other hand can not have those accusations leveled and it is only part of the character summation this beautiful horsewoman turned married woman.
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In marrying she thinks she finds her soulmate and fellow adventurer with plenty of common direction and interest.
As a partner in business George is confident of what she can bring outside the house. The comparability of the couple have no sexual shortcomings and she quickly becomes pregnant.
As an operator of business from a horse or in her boots on the hills she carries every action out without error. Her countenance is accepted.
The person who we see most put out by her presence is the directionless Buchanan. There are a couple of head woodsmen that all three rely on to enforce their instructions

These are familiar actors which is a feature of this film.
II is odd to see Douglas Hodges as a fiery logsman with a passable impression of a doughty American shouting the odds of the new America.
Also the squat doleful Toby Jones is cast as the righteous Sheriff of the adjacent town. He is implausibly plausible given the cock a manny story.

Sean Harris and Rhys Ifans are the two dependable.
Rhys Ifans under his ten gallon hat does a mean meany oddball.
Serena accepts his judgement if not his outsider withdrawn, need to be an outsider. Rhys paces alongside things. Rails freshly laid. Logs freshly felled and houses freshly inhabited. He acts feral (not unlike the feral under-panted 4W+1Funeral wimp) as the other dependable Harris we recall from the newly released ’71 in which he plays the Long haired beatnik guised Spook of her majesties finest. He is here an only mildly less savory self interested pugnacious beetler in the wood pile.

It is a right ant-heap and by way of relation Serena sends for a trained Eagle to take care of the snakes which have killed several of the needed workers.

The first section, well over halfway into the story little hens of any consequence. The anti-romance is played. George does not meet her expectations and is easily given instructions without being aware of them, she has a major plan in mind. She has to in my mind emulate and better the achievements of her lost Father. The Father lost in the fire and the ghost of the loss of an entire family explains much of her driven nature.
She is not conscious of this herself and is therefore not able to forgive readily for minor transgressions.
George on the other hand is reflective and cautious. Serena is the risk taker.
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When the film becomes a highly intense crime thriller it is complete with murder, conspiracy, corruption and revenge all told.

A side story involves George’s child conceived with his ‘maid’ the delectable Rachel (Romanian actress Ana Ularu), whose continued presence upsets Serena on occasions, despite her instruction to George when she realises, as soon as she arrives that this past and child exist.
Only occasionally does she have cause to make anything of it but on the triangle swings several twists.

Serena is at the centre of this melodrama and with flawless imperious portrayal of restrained imploding self confidence the magnetism I for one see, as many others recognise, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a brilliant performance with the panoply of emotions suited to her poise and beautiful face and stature. It is a character that for the reasons addressed earlier requires the unbelievable passage of the story at times to be delivered in the manner which makes you think of the wider possibilities.

To this it has to be added the impression I took of Bradley Coopers performance was it was wooden not only in the material but delivery. He may have drilled to much; making him out at times was a problem hopefully most didn’t experience. Don’t worry as most of the best lines are Serena’s. Rhys Ifans just comes out with cliches through clenched teeth.
The forest as it turns out is in Czechoslovakia – presumably they have stopped deforesting large sections of North America and now have a preference for Fracking.

I would like to see Jennifer in a political Drama. I wonder if she would play the courageous life of a French woman scorned and driven to show the guys what women can do in Politics. Beware what you wish.

The story turns into a very suspense driven implosion of the relationships which have taken you to the North Carolina timber rough sawn America.
The lush scenic background of the Smoky Mountains and the attention to costume detail are (Czech shoot aside!) very natural and give the film the cosmetic of convincing cinema.

Conclusion. ###3

The full dynamic of the film is from my viewing the character of Serena shaped by the events. That makes it succeed on a couple of levels but it has some one dimensional aspects which takes away from what could be a more incisive film. If the one to one scenes between George and Serena were more complex; after all it becomes a complex relationship.
The challenges and the difficulties of making a life in this territory is there but folk like Toby Jones who succeeds in making a Good guy fighting for the locals acerbic. A bad turn – I dread to think how he will turn us against Captain Mainwaring – yes currently being filmed and Michael Gambon – is the hired ace to play a Buffon – how does that work? What the hell is happening to the Film Industry.
Can you not rely on the actors to choose their parts wisely and to embrace the craft of cinema without looking at the paycheck first?

This film will appeal as a kind of un troubling drama and will hardly bring down too many trees. The he digital age. Will newsprint ever cease?

John Graham

23 October 2014

Belfast

On at QFT from Friday 24 October to 6 November 2014
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