At the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival, Eugene Hernandez will be filing dispatches for FILM COMMENT about the films, press conferences, and other events.

Tale of Tales

Tale of Tales

Seated at the head of a wide table in a white room, Salma Hayek is voraciously feasting on a giant, beating heart. That image of Hayek, from Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, traversed social media in the days leading up to the film’s world premiere at Cannes. In the Italian director’s latest, Hayek’s feast is a turning point in one of the three fairy tales reimagined in this fantastical competition entry.

Adapted from stories by 17th-century Neapolitan author Giambattista Basile, Tale of Tales interweaves stories that involve three different sets of royals played by Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, and John C. Reilly: a queen is determined to become a mother, a sex-crazed king can’t stop chasing women, and an aging monarch becomes captivated by his new pet flea to the detriment of his daughter. 

“He is an author who's unknown, and it’s unfair,” Garrone said of Basile yesterday morning at the press conference for Tale of Tales. Born in 1566 in Naples, Basile wrote tall tales aimed at entertaining kids, and his stories would later influence Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.

“A key idea in the film is desire,” Garrone added. “Desire that goes beyond limits and becomes an obsession.”

During yesterday's press conference, Garrone explained that he was drawn to Basile’s stories because of their universal traits and his own passion for the characters. The 46-year-old filmmaker admitted that his films—The Embalmer (02), Gomorrah (08), Reality (12)—may seem quite different from one another, but they share his love for the characters.

Tale of Tales is filled with bright, colorful characters and settings as well as moments that may shock some viewers. “We tried to go back to the origins of cinema and create images that would surprise the spectators,” Garrone said.

Tale of Tales

Matteo Garrone (center), Vincent Cassel (left) moderator Henri Behar, and John C. Reilly (right)

Meticulously handcrafted sets, props, and lavish period clothing populate Tale of Tales. Not surprisingly, shooting that scene in which Hayek devours the heart of a sea monster—she’s been told it will break a spell that has prevented her from bearing a child—was a disgusting experience. Seated next to Garrone at yesterday's press conference, Hayek recalled his intensity and absolute dedication.

“Our director here wanted [the heart] to be perfect. God forbid I took a bite and a doctor would recognize that an artery was missing!” she exclaimed.

Garrone supervised the creation of the anatomically precise organ, constructed in part using pasta and candy. Close-ups of Hayek gorging on the heart were framed in a way that allowed her to spit up just out of frame whenever she gagged. 

While the director spoke of his characters’ obsessions in Tale of Tales, the trait clearly carried over from the characters to its filmmaker.

“There are method actors and there are method directors,” Hayek continued later in the press conference. “They arrive and they go into their own world and they live there. If something doesn’t belong to that world, it won’t go; you stay there until he gets it.”

Garrone seemed to revel in the extreme nature of the fairy tales, which he strove to reflect in the film’s vivid version.  

“Yes, these are characters that everybody can relate to, but [the story] always goes to a place where you never could have imagined,” he noted. “It goes to very unique places and it goes in a very unique way.”