February 26, 2015 Leave a comment
On a crowded flight two neighbouring passengers (María Marull; Darío Grandinetti) realise that they both have an acquaintance in common. At a late-night diner a young waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) recognises an old tormentor (César Bordón), but refuses the cook’s (Rita Cortese) offer to plot long-overdue revenge. Having reprimanded another driver (Walter Donado) for slowing him down, a businessman (Leonardo Sbaraglia) soon finds himself regretting his actions when a breakdown leaves him stranded and vulnerable. His car unfairly impounded, a demolitions expert (Ricardo Darín) spends his daughter’s birthday refuting the fine. After a hit-and-run perpetrated by his son, a wealthy father (Oscar Martínez) bribes his caretaker into taking the blame. A wedding party is rocked when the bride (Érica Rivas) learns of her groom’s (Diego Gentile) infidelity.
These six standalone segments comprise Wild Tales, television and film writer-director Damián Szifrón’s darkly comic anthology film and his native Argentina’s shortlisted entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. The collection opens confidently with Pasternak, an assured if not slightly absurd tale of revenge at twenty thousand feet that effectively and efficiently sets the scene for what is to come. Each short is self-contained, stylishly shot and conspicuously Spanish (or Argentine-Spanish, to be precisely) — making for an altogether more cinematic sextet than those traditionally televised at home on British TV. Think Crackanory or Inside No. 9, only with five times the budget and a tongue in each cheek instead of just one and you’re almost there.
Pasternak is followed by The Rats, an atmospheric and very amusing story of aiding and abetting. Both, however, are eclipsed by The Strongest, a superb little short that pits tailgater against road-hog in a story so simple yet so perceptive that it might have been written by Stephen King. It’s the closest Wild Tales comes to being genuinely unsettling, combining as it does both a primal fear with a relatively plausible setting; even as the violence escalates (and the verisimilitude deteriorates), Mario — the road-hog — continues to intimidate. The Stranger is so good, however, that it cannot possibly be outmatched, and though entertaining the successive instalments do suffer by comparison. Little Bomb and The Proposal have their moments, but neither has quite the same impact.
At just over two hours in length, Wild Tales is too long, particularly for a series of shorts without cross-over or even a defining theme. Front-loaded as it is, the obvious answer would be to sacrifice a story from the film’s back half in the name of brevity. Though Little Bomb and The Proposal might lack the same surrealism, they are satirical enough to compensate; instead, it’s the final short — Until Death Do Us Part — that feels like the weakest link. The performances are strong enough — Rivas in particular is a deranged delight — and it’s perfectly well staged — the filmmakers make great use of the venue — but the premise feels a little staid and ordinary when you consider what insanity came before. Perhaps if Szifrón had saved the best until last, however, it wouldn’t feel like such an anti-climax.
That said, even in its weaker moments Wild Tales remains deliriously good fun, with more than its fair share of stand-out moments. Inconsistency is to be expected, but what is truly impressive is just how comprehensive the collection ultimately feels. No wonder it was nominated for an Oscar.