Release: Friday, February 20, 2015 (limited)
Written by: Damián Szifrón
Directed by: Damián Szifrón
Having a rough day at the office? Car get towed? Is your name Britt McHenry? Wild Tales may be exactly the movie you need to see today.
Allow Argentinian Damián Szifrón to remedy your red-letter-day blues with a different kind of cinematic experience in the form of six short films each dealing with people on the verge of completely losing their cool when put in extremely distressing situations. As an anthology film, Wild Tales mixes comedy, drama and tragedy in a farcical manner only cinema can provide. Last year’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film distinguishes itself as a fascinating collage of circumstances, each one suggesting we all harbor this ability to do ridiculous things when we’re pushed past our breaking point.
Rather than reviewing this feature as a whole I think it’ll be more beneficial to break it down into its individual pieces and rate them individually.
The first (and shortest) segment deals with passengers on a flight who all happen to have some kind of connection to a man named Pasternak. One man, a music critic sitting adjacent to Pasternak’s ex-girlfriend, claimed that he once destroyed Pasternak on the basis that he had not one lick of musical talent. And that’s just the beginning of this farce. It’s not long before the entire cabin realizes that the flight is nothing more than a trap that’s been brilliantly orchestrated by Pasternak himself (who is the chief pilot) and that their fates lie in his hands. Given that this is the introductory piece it’s put at somewhat of a disadvantage as the happenstance nature of the plot seems at first a bit farfetched and the performances aren’t uniformly convincing. However, this is a short that significantly improves when you look back upon it and becomes extremely amusing.
‘The Rats’ (‘Las Ratas’)
Arguably the least effective and least engaging of the entries, ‘Las Ratas’ deals with a scumbag customer who treats his server (an emotionally fragile woman) and kitchen staff (a disdainful old ex-con) with little to no respect. Quickly the server realizes this man, a loan shark, has been the source of her recent misery as he is responsible for the destruction of her family. The lady in the kitchen tells her she should take care of this pest once and for all by poisoning his food — an order of fried eggs with fries, no less. However, the server can’t quite bring herself to do such a thing. The sketch feels a little too forced and just doesn’t click as the others ultimately do. In sequence, however, this one ends up as a considerably darker expounding of the humor presented in ‘Pasternak,’ and remains a pretty entertaining watch despite its numerous shortcomings. Anyone who has ever worked a kitchen job should be able to identify with these women’s frustrations.
‘The Strongest’ (‘El más fuerte’)
Wild Tales hits its stride with this outrageous and hilarious showdown in the desert that pits two men of markedly different societal classes against one another in a scene where the description ‘genius’ doesn’t feel too sensational. What begins as a typical case of road rage culminates in a battle for survival as an upper-middle class white-collar worker (let’s just presume he is for the sake of brevity) blows a tire near a bridge and has to stop to fix it. The poorer man he happened to shout obscenities at while trying to overtake on the quiet desert road also shows up at the scene and begins threatening him, thinking the snob won’t escape. Tensions and tempers flare to unexpectedly comical levels, ending in a rather explosive finale where no one really wins. The third segment encompasses multiple emotions — fear, indignation, bitterness, jealousy among others — while portraying a situation that, while extreme, can be universally identified as an inconvenience. Quite possibly the best of the bunch.
‘Little Bomb’ (‘Bombita’)
‘Bombita’ may very well translate as the most empathetic of all these farces. Can we all agree that having one’s car towed es un dolor mayor en el culo? Simón is a demolitions expert whose car is towed away while parked along a curb that is not properly marked as a tow-away zone. As a rather emotional man, he makes sure his complaints are heard by the so-called fascists pigs in charge but in so doing his life begins to unravel to a degree the husband and father of a young daughter was never expecting. ‘Bombita’ accurately depicts the way logic and emotion have this distinctly infuriating relationship with one another — though ultimately how emotion usually ends up trumping the former. But Simón is pushed to a point where he finally takes a stand for himself, even though it’s pretty much cost him his family and what was left of his dignity (not to mention finances). Emotionally charged and engaging like few of the segments preceding it, this elevates Wild Tales‘ ambition to another level, even with ‘Bombita”s absurd conclusion.
‘The Proposal’ (‘La Propuesta’)
What gives Wild Tales such an air of authenticity is its ability to dabble in the realm of the tragic as well as the comedic. While comedy certainly dominates and is varied in terms of lightheartedness and absurdity, no segment thus far is neither as solemn nor as real as ‘La Propuesta.’ It deals with the son of a wealthy man named Mauricio and the consequences the youth must face after running down a pregnant woman while drunk during the course of a random night. He returns home and confesses to his parents, who in turn contact their lawyer. As Mauricio knows his son would not survive in prison he arranges that his groundskeeper take the fall, for payment. Unfortunately the scheme fails to convince the local prosecutor and Mauricio is forced into negotiating exorbitant prices to keep his son out of prison. What price would you pay to keep your family out of this kind of danger? The moral dilemma everyone in this segment faces is depicted with heart-wrenching attention to detail. It may not be the most enjoyable experience but it’s another highlight of this anthology.
‘Til Death Do Us Part’ (‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’)
The final several (long) minutes of Wild Tales takes us to the world’s most ridiculous wedding reception, where Romina discovers her minutes-old husband, Ariel, has been cheating on her with one of the wedding guests. I’ve never been married but I’ve also never quite understood the term ‘bridezilla.’ Until now. ‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’ is easily the least-disciplined of the lot and overstays its welcome by several minutes, as the conclusion is neither particularly believable nor inventive. The build-up to it — the fall-out between the newlyweds and their families — is a good bit of fun that epitomizes Szifrón’s intent to lampoon common stresses that have the potential to bring out the worst in people. He really goes overboard on this one, using the heightened emotions that weddings tend to extract (not just out of individuals but as a collective of loved ones who have various levels of concern) as a springboard to end Wild Tales on a decidedly cartoonish note. It’s not that it’s poorly done. It’s just, well . . . a bit too wild for it’s own good.
Recommendation: Wild Tales serves as a delightfully sensational take on human behavior, psychology, and interaction. The format is an ingenious decision on the part of Szifrón and each segment stands on its own in terms of its thematic content and emotional heft. If you’re seeking out something different from the usual cinema fare (I know that’s such a general recommendation, but I can’t say anything more in fear of spoiling this thing for you) allow me to point you in the direction of some theater that might happen to be playing this. Or when it comes out on DVD, be sure to give it a rental. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
Running Time: 122 mins.
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