Wild Tales (2015, Damián Szifrón)

Argentina is mad as hell and it’s not going to take it anymore. Wild Tales is a collection of six unrelated, darkly comic short stories that follow one common thread: otherwise ordinary people succumbing to violent acts of revenge.

Wild Tales kicks off in spectacular fashion with its terrific opening vignette, ‘Pasternak’. A fashion model boards a plane and strikes up a conversation with a music critic. They soon discover that they both know a man called Gabriel Pasternak. Weirder still, they both realise that everyone on the plane knows Pasternak in some form or another and they all have something to be sorry about.

‘The Rats’ involves a waitress serving a customer who has caused her family misery in the past – the journey to the inevitable violent conclusion ramps up once the waitress confides in the restaurant’s hilarious elderly cook. ‘If poison reaches its expiration date, does that mean that it is more or less effective?’ the cook asks in po-faced fashion.

Perhaps the strongest tale is ‘Road to Hell’, in which a wealthy businessman insults a ‘redneck’ as he speeds by triumphantly. His expensive Audi breaks down shortly after and the two men spend a lot of time getting to know each other over their shared road rage.

‘Bombita’ follows a demolitions expert who has his car unfairly impounded. It’s a system that exists entirely on the idea that most people will acquiesce and pay the fine. Simon (Ricardo Darin) decides to put his acquired knowledge to use.

‘The Proposal’ concerns a rich, spoiled son who commits a crime, but his father uses his financial muscle and privileged position to make everything ‘right’. ‘The Proposal’ is the odd one out, conspicuous by its lack of dark humour compared to the rest of the stories which makes it the weakest entry in the anthology.

But Wild Tales ends with a bang. ‘Until Death Do Us Part’ follows a bride who finds out that her husband has slept with a leggy female who happens to be a guest at their wedding. Her sorrow and heartache quickly transforms into an outrageous public display of vengeance.

As is often the case with portmanteau films, Wild Tales’ six stories vary in quality but it is to Szifrón’s credit that the film maintains a (mostly) consistent rhythm and tone. The characters are developed in interesting ways in spite of the limited time constraints.

Performances are uniformly strong but Ricardo Darin as the hapless demolitions engineer is a notable highlight and Erica Rivas, playing the cheated bride scorned, is a star.

‘I see violence everywhere,’ claims one character. Szifrón, with the sort of spirit that would make Luis Buñuel proud, satirises what he deems an idle nation surrounded by corruption and injustice – dormant indignation gives way to unabashed explosions of aggression. Its characters strip themselves of all inhibitions and the outcome is an energetic, frenzied combination of farce and horror. (8)

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