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From film festival sensation to streaming channel content: it’s a swift, cinema-skipping trajectory that more and more outstanding films are taking these days, and one I’ve discussed often in this column. But the downshift in screen size for The Tale, an emotional gut-punch now streaming at Sky-owned NowTV, feels especially notable in this regard – a case of a potentially era-defining film entrusted to the unpredictable hands of online distribution.
The first narrative film by the accomplished documentary-maker Jennifer Fox, The Tale was the uncontested toast of a low-key Sundance film festival in January, inspiring the most impassioned reviews out of the snowy Utah hills, as well as some of the fiercest deal-making. The excitement was understandable: by virtue of unplanned timing as well as its own candid, considered storytelling, Fox’s deeply personal work was instantly hailed as a defining film of the #MeToo era.
A story of sexual abuse diarised and revisited from adolescence to adulthood, it’s propelled by feelings of persistent pain and lacerating anger, and matched the mood of an industry in the midst of its own inquiry into abuse and ensuing trauma. Oscar talk started up, only to switch immediately to Emmy speculation when cable channel HBO won the bidding for Fox’s film: The Tale would bypass the big screen and live on as a prestige TV movie. Last week, following a one-off cinema engagement at Sundance London, it had its UK premiere on Sky Atlantic; now, it’s available only to NowTV subscribers.
In one sense, that’s a shame for a film deserving of the chatter that comes with wider accessibility, or at least a platform that promotes the work generously and accurately. Right now, the film’s NowTV page bills it as a “documentary” – misleading, even if Fox’s nonfiction experience is apparent in a layered work of autobiographical truth-telling. A superb Laura Dern stars as the adult Fox, returning to a period of childhood abuse that she has only more recently come to understand as such. As a 13-year-old girl (beautifully played by Isabelle Nélisse), she wrote of her experience of entering into a sexual relationship with an adult sporting coach as one of elated, consensual erotic awakening. Using deft cinematic sleight of hand, Fox pitches her past and present-day perspectives against each other, revealing how innocence and precocious desire can be exploited in ways that sometimes take years to reveal themselves as violent.
It’s a devastating, discomfiting memoir – so discomfiting, in fact, that you can understand the rationale for effectively changing The Tale’s medium to television, where viewers can consider its troubling, intimate questions in private. We often speak of cinema as a thrillingly communal experience, but there’s something to be said for facing certain stories alone, or at least with an audience you have chosen: the living room as a safe space, if you will.
Certainly, The Tale loses none of its blunt power for being viewed on a smaller rectangle: it’s the post-viewing thought process that fills your head.
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Source: The Guardian
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