A distressing, disquieting & devastating self-portrait that’s right up there with some of the most upsetting films ever made, The Tale is an unflinchingly raw, immensely brave & powerfully affecting account of one woman’s past that’s brought to life with deft touch & unapologetic honesty, and features an unforgettable performance from Laura Dern.
The Tale follows an acclaimed documentary filmmaker who’s forced to re-examine her memory after her mother finds some letters she wrote as a child and asks her to go through them. As she reads those letters again and delves more into her past, she begins to question the nature of her childhood relationship with her riding instructor & her running coach.
Written & directed by Jennifer Fox, The Tale is a memoir of her own past and how it shaped up her present. A self-reflective portrait that accurately illustrates the stories we make up and memories we suppress in order to survive the dark chapters of our lives, it takes a lot of courage & contemplation to pen down something this personal & traumatic and then translate it on film canvas and for that, Fox deserves a bow.
But that alone isn’t the reason why this film is so gripping & hard-hitting throughout. There is an actual sense of depth to everything we are witnessing and the carefully structured narrative provides it an added touch of mystery as we journey into Fox’s troubled past and discover the extent of her childhood sexual abuse simultaneously with her, which in turn allows us viewers to empathise in a more readily manner.
Jennifer Fox holds nothing back here, going as far as to include the sexual acts that are shocking & disturbing enough to shatter your soul yet these moments, no matter how repulsive, are absolutely essential & integral to the narrative. It is a bold move from Fox and it pays off. Also, her filmmaking knowledge & first-hand experience is what gives her story a shape & identity that may not have been possible otherwise.
And then there is Laura Dern who takes this complex persona and articulates her confusion, emotions & conflicted thoughts from inside out in what may well be her best performance to date. Isabelle Nélisse plays the 13-year old Jenny Fox, and even she manages to leave her own mark. The remaining cast play their respective parts responsibly but it’s Dern who steals the show with her delicately balanced act.
On an overall scale, The Tale is going to be a difficult sit for many but it’s an essential viewing by all means, for the film exquisitely navigates through all the complexities of emotions & feelings that one is too ill-equipped to understand at such a young age, and the guilt, anger & regret felt when they finally realise the gravity of what wasn’t even their own fault. A thoroughly compelling, thought-provoking & earth-shattering experience, The Tale is one of the most powerful works of the year that deserves to be seen by everyone. Strongly recommended.