This film is based on three tales from the Pentamerone, a 17th Century collection of folk tales, from which we also get our earliest versions of Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Director Matteo Garone, successfully blends these three stories into one flowing narrative, and what a delightful entrancing result it is.
Retaining a lot of the original qualities of this source material, the stories are unhinged, bizarre, surreal creations that startle, entrance, are both beautiful and repulsive, whilst all the while retaining that curious logic that folk tales possess, that is all their own. The buildings, sets, locations, costumes and effects possess a baroque twist of exoticism, and provide the movie with both a familiarity and an other-worldliness. There is an excellent cast of Selma Hayek, John C Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassell who bring these odd tales close to the edge of being believable.
Most of the tales involve a decision or action that has an unintended consequences for a character, usually requiring a sacrifice. They are often told half truths, where aspects of what will happen are being withheld. A king wants to cheer up his morose queen, so he obtains the beating heart of a sea monster so a virgin can throw it into a pot of boiling liquid, all so his wife can eat it and then conceive a son in an instant, and be happy. Unfortunately the king dies in obtaining the heart, and both the queen and the virgin conceive a son, who turn out to be identical albino twins, who become inseparable and can both breath under water.
Like many folk tales they are not for the squeamish, and often have a very dark shadowy side to them. One woman who wants to appear young has her flesh cut, stretched and stuck down, whilst another has her skin flayed off. Whilst this is to my mind not shown in a gratuitous manner it nevertheless gives the film an unnerving, yet intriguing edge, you never know quite where these stories will take you. They remind you how life, and not just folk tales, will often punish you for your ignorance, vanity and folly.