Photo: Berlinale
by Steven Warner Featured Film Horizon Line

Bad Tales | Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo

June 4, 2021

Bad Tales certainly tries hard but comes off mostly like an artfully-directed after-school special.

The stink of desperation wafts heavily from Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo’s Italian never-coming-of-age drama Bad Tales. An unholy hybrid of the dreamy lyricism of The Virgin Suicides and the stomach-churning grunge of Gummo, Bad Tales feels like an artifact from another era, a morality tale 20 years too late to the party. The kids are not all right in the middle-class cul-de-sac where our story unfolds, nor are the parents, who are too self-obsessed to notice all the bomb-making and underage-canoodling taking place right under their noses. The D’Innocenzos try mightily to shock with their content, including everything from a 12-year-old boy being offered a blow job from a very pregnant teen — who at one point squeezes milk from her breast onto a cookie as a form of flirtation — to a father giving his pre-teen son condoms in case he gets lucky with the local lice-ridden, bewigged “weird girl.” The imagery itself is awash in irony, all golden-hour filters and soft focus, while fathers masturbate furiously in backyards and savagely beat their sons. There is casual discussion of unemployment and unhappy marriages, serving as potential causes for the rot at hand; or maybe the history teacher who fills his lesson plans with tales of terrorism and suicide should be held partly responsible.

It is clear that the actions of the elders are having a negative effect on today’s youth, a story perhaps as old as time, but one that still holds weight in our culture when told effectively. Unfortunately, there is nothing new to be gleaned here, the film firmly built on didacticism even as it steadfastly rejects both plot and a reliable narrator. There is no forward thrust, nothing to engage the viewer. The child actors are fine and not much else, while the adults barely make an impact. The whole thing becomes rather numbing after a while, the bad behavior and gauzy visuals making the events feel less like a dream than an artfully-directed after-school special — and the lack of specificity is particularly galling. Larry Clark called and wants his sexy moral outrage back.

Originally published as part of Berlin International Film Festival 2020 | Dispatch 3.