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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.19.15] fantasy avant-garde

Do you remember Lamberto Bava's series of unintentional comedies from the late 80's? Desideria? Fantagaro? With the cardboard dragon catching fire and all? Matteo Garrone's take on Il Pentamerone is basically the same, but with the benefit of today's production standards. Three of the original tales, "La Cerva Fatata", "La Pulce" and "La Vecchia Scorticata", are butchered together into one packaged film trying ever so vaguely to intertwine them. And I'm pretty lenient when I use the word "butcher".

What is both semantically and socially interesting in those particular Neapolitan fairy tales is only lingering as an afterthought here. In my reading of the tales as a child it always struck me that the whole point - the deep moral of all these tales - was that family, in particular immediate blood relatives, is the primal source of evil in the world.

Not that I had the words to express it at the time, but still, it's painfully accurate and as true today as ever. "La Cerva Fatata" is about a possessive mother, jealous of the bond between her twins. "La Pulce," an authoritative father wanting to hurt his daughter instead of being proved wrong. "La Vecchia Scorticata", a desperately envious sister unable to let go of her sibling.

In Garrone's treatment this subtext is only here if you are looking and that's a shame because that kind of social study is the heart of matter. Kings, queens and dragons are mere placeholders. That being said, I'll admit there are some truly beautiful shots here that really viscerally breathtaking. But adding them all up amounts to about 12 minutes with an anteater thrown in as a tip. Unfortunately, the rest of the two long hours is tedious.

Beside the philosophical considerations, which are my biggest disappointment, the list of inadequacies is still extensive. Most of the visual effects are alarmingly subpar for something done after 1998 and everything else from the sets to the wardrobe feels fake and hollow. Initially I mused about it all being on purpose (a nod to both the Bava mini-series and commedia dell'arte? Some sort of wink or homage maybe?) But as the movie progressed that line of thinking was proved wrong. There's something way too serious in the treatment for the whole to be ironic. And I'm pretty sure my association with la commedia was my battered mind trying to redeem Vincent Cassel's portrayal of his character into something that's actually that bad for a reason.

Recommended Release: Society (Collector's Blu-ray)

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sevenape (3 years ago) Reply

Hi, I repectfully disagree with your opinion, I found the film to be a sheer delight from beginning to end. It was beautiful and funny and bleak, something we are missing in modern mainstream cinema and watching it was like a breath of fresh air. I see that the original fairy tales are important for you, however as a person with practically zero knowledge of Neapolitan fairy tales I didn't get any of the negative points you raised, and as for the effects and general visual flair of the film... I found it delightful!


highlander (3 years ago) Reply

I fully agree, sevenape. This was delightful all around.

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