The Tale – Sundance London Review

Difficult movies come in every form. There are tonnes of films out there that tackle the hard stories – the secret ones, murky in our memories and subconscious. Movies are excavation. They dig deep into the psyche of us and put it on the screen. Tough watches cling to you for many different reasons; it either confronts you with pain in order to wake you up to experiences that others go through, beckoning empathy and understanding, or it could allow you to find solace in a movie as ghosts from your own past need soothing and healing through the arts.

Using her own harrowing truth to extrapolate her issues, Jennifer Fox has laid bare her raw past in The Tale.

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Turning from documentary to story-telling, Jennifer Fox directs this intricate semi-autobiographical story. As a director, Fox has a seemingly brilliant life – a loving fiance and a fantastic career. However, when her mother uncovers an intimate story written by her 13 year old self, she starts to remember the abuse she suffered as a child. She then must try to piece it all together.

I’m going to be honest, as I write this now, quaking just moments from the ending. I am finding it hard to piece together my thoughts on the film. And perhaps I’ll remove this line when I have formulated some sort of idea on how I feel and how it is an impacting piece of drama. The work here is a hard watch – not graphic in the way that sexual abuse is usually exploited on the big screen – but detailed enough for it to trigger a response. It’s gruesome and bleak, not just the acts but the grooming. The sinister cheery smile of Bill and the sickly corralling of Mrs. G perturb with their niceties in order to cause atrocities. This, matched with Jennifer’s triggered panics later on in life, make an uncomfortable but an utterly necessary watch. This is cinematic therapy that could earnestly help other sufferers. The imagery is painfully vivid but it is beautifully shot as Fox, the character, uncovers her own truth, locked away from herself.

Fox’s play with memory is the real mastery here. Though her trauma is real, the details shift and change as new layers and information is uncovered. Cleverly, the actress portraying her younger self changes. As she resolves she was in a relationship with the older Bill, Jennifer pictures herself as an older girl. Only when her mother reveals photographs does this change. It’s important that The Tale is portrayed in this manner, showcasing how our minds can play tricks on us to protect ourselves. It makes the story more painful, as a mind allows a young girl to lock away her own truth to protect herself.

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Laura Dern embodies a women on the edge of unravelling her repression. In one scene she just stares, the thoughts of her abuse and her anger sitting delicately on the surface wanting retribution for an act that shaped and changed her. There is an astute awareness from Dern and it is an immensely powerful performance, driven by anguish, fear, and yearning to complete the story. Elizabeth Debecki is chilling as the alluring Mrs. G and her delivery is so concise and breaking that it……………

The Tale may be a difficult watch but you must, you must watch this. Jennifer Fox is a fearless filmmaker who has bared her scars in order to tell this story. It is an evocative and poignant piece of brutal honesty.

The Tale premiered at Sundance London Film Festival
It screens on Sky Atlantic on 5th June 

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