When Lizzie (a winsome Amalia Stifter) gets arrested for running over an endangered Indigo snake near the outskirts of Pandale, TX, she quickly discovers the locals in the smudge-sized hamlet have a rich tradition in the fine art of dispensing gossip, folklore and local legends. The late, lamented blue-skinned Indigo of West Texas, for instance, has a local rep approaching that of a Sasquatch or a Nessie, and the only way Lizzie will be acquitted is if she can spin a tall tale snappy enough to win over a jaded and cynical judge (Fred Ellis). She’s got two minutes. Such is the premise of “Snake Tales,” the goofy but enchanting debut feature from University of Texas film instructor Francesca Talenti.
At first, Lizzie stammers out a lame excuse for arriving without a driver’s license, but quickly warms to her task. Soon, the characters in her story are telling stories of their own until these branching and inter-connecting stories within stories tangle, weave, and blend to form a labyrinthine whole; a sort of narrative hall of mirrors where you’re not quite certain where you are but you’re havin’ a ball nonetheless.
I’ve got a soft spot for interlocking vignette films IF they’re done well, and this one is. It’s amazing how many films can’t even tell one story well. “Snake Tales” manages to tell several – and one – all at the same time. Okay, it’s a bit ragged around the edges with a couple of skipped-frame jump-cuts and some obvious dialogue looping, but so what? This is fun stuff, full of genuine surprises, endearing oddballs and even a touch of the supernatural thrown in to complement the film’s rustic photography and rugged local clime.
Featuring enough oddities to fill up a ten gallon hat under a Texas sun that’s hot enough to sizzle armadillo roadkill, “Snake Tales” slithers through its intoxicating mix of the petty, profound and surreal in fine fashion; a perfect film for a state that’s practically its own Tall Tale.