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Italian director Matteo Garrone first came to Cannes in 2002 with his dark drama “The Embalmer,” which screened in Directors’ Fortnight. He then graduated to competition, scooping nods with gritty crimer “Gomorra” in 2008 and “Reality” in 2012. Now Garrone is back on the Croisette with “The Tale of Tales,” a bold English-language horror/fantasy toplining Salma Hayek – as a Spanish queen who eats a raw dragon’s heart – Vincent Cassel and John C. Reilly, which premieres on Thursday night..

Your film is based on stories from a collection of fairy tales by 17th century Italian author Giambattista Basile, containing the earliest versions of famous fables like “Rapunzel,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.” What drew you to the material?
The beauty of the characters, their visual richness, the originality of the stories. Basile depicted a world that mixes reality and fantasy, comedy and tragedy, the sublime and the scatological. It’s familiar to me. Also, some of the themes are very current.

Such as?
Plastic surgery; the frenzied desire to have a child; the conflict between generations; the painful passage from adolescence to adulthood.

How was it working with such a high-caliber international cast for the first time?
The casting originated from the actors’ physicality. Salma Hayek is just spot on as a 17th Spanish queen. Vincent Cassel is comic and dramatic at the same time; he reminded me of the great Vittorio Gassman.

Wasn’t this change of genre scary for you?
To tell you the truth, yes. Perhaps it was a reckless, even masochistic, choice. But I like to renew myself and it’s also my ambition to reach a broader audience.

The Italian locations are amazing. How did you pick them?
My set designer Dimitri Capuani and I travelled up and down Italy for months; of course we had plenty to choose from. One of our guidelines was to find real locations that looked liked they had been rebuilt in a studio.

What were your cinematic or aesthetic references for the film?
First of all “Game of Thrones,” then Mario Bava and Pasolini’s “The Hawks and the Sparrows” and some of his shorts. I also had Goya’s “Caprichos” in my study while I was writing the screenplay.

Could “Tales” become a TV series?
Sure, or a second film. There is so much material. We even started writing scripts for the some of the other tales.

There are three Italian films in competition in Cannes this year. How do you feel about that? Are you hoping for a prize?
The biggest prize for me is people going to see my film. It was conceived for an audience even more than for a festival. I’m proud there are three of us in competition, we are three completely different directors and maybe that’s why Thierry Fremaux picked us all. It’s an important signal for Italian cinema in the international arena.