Friday 3 April 2015

Wild Tales: An anthology that is all killer no filler


Wild Tales
Director: Damián Szifron
Starring: Darío Grandinetti, María Marull, Mónica Villa, 
Érica Rivas
Running time: 122 mins

The first 10 minutes of Wild Tales are so brutal, bleak, and hilariously entertaining that I didn’t think director Szifron could possibly keep it up for a whole film. But, you know what? He pretty much does. 

Portmanteau movies are frequently inconsistent affairs. Some stories hit the spot, others… less so. This Argentine Oscar nominee – comprised of six short tales taking rage and revenge as their subject – is all killer no filler.

The first, third, and closing segments are my favourites, though. “Pasternak” – told pre-credits – takes place on a plane whose passengers realise they all have a link to the same man. A sense of surprise and puzzlement quickly gives way to unease, panic, and finally abject terror as the tale’s pitch-black heart reveals itself. Its ending provoked in me an emotion I can only describe as “joy-horror”, involving as it did a mixture of loud laughter and profound dread. It's a marvellous, provocative opening, even in light of the Germanwings plane tragedy that some have clumsily sought to connect it to.

The third segment – “El más fuerte” (The Strongest) – begins with a minor road rage incident and then escalates. And escalates. AND ESCALATES! Punches are thrown, vehicles are smashed; a hammer and fire extinguisher become lethal weapons as a yuppie motorist and his banger-driving aggressor tear lumps out of each other. Filming this segment in the middle of nowhere proves an inspired move as a regal Argentine mountain range stares down on the bloody tableau beneath, as if to say, “All this and you’re killing each other over a motoring disagreement?!” The Strongest also boasts a terrific, ironic ending that neatly puts the previous 15 minutes of macho bullshit into perspective.

Wild Tales’ main message seems to be that humanity – and the society it has built – is sick, twisted and beyond repair. Furthermore, within all of us, just below the surface, lurks a vengeful monster capable of the most heinous acts.

The film – which is co-produced and clearly influenced by Pedro Almodóvar – focuses on Argentina but the themes and ideas it explores are just as apposite in the western world. The sixth and final tale – “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” (Until Death Do Us Part) – starts at a lavish wedding as two young lovers are joined in holy matrimony surrounded by their nearest and dearest. It couldn’t be a more perfect scene until a recent infidelity is revealed and a mini Armageddon ensues with enraged bride Romina (the excellent Érica Rivas, pictured above) at its epicentre.

It’s like watching The War of the Roses – the Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas black comedy of the late-’80s – on fast forward; violent, bleak and sad but also, somehow, very funny. Mercifully, it ends on a hopeful note and it needed to lest proceedings become too nihilistic. Yes, we’re awful to each other and too often the authors of our own downfall but, amidst the madness and poison, there’s something about humanity worth preserving and celebrating. Maybe.

Although perhaps not quite as successful, the other three stories are equally pointed in their satire – the ageing cook in “Las Ratas” (The Rats) happy to return to prison because “society is shit”, the explosives engineer wreaking vengeance on the bureaucracy he allowed to wreck his life in “Bombita” (Little Bomb), the rich father happy to sacrifice a lowly employee to keep his drunken son out of jail in “La Propuesta” (The Proposal).

There isn’t a duff moment amongst them as Szifron rails not just against those taking revenge or giving into their rage but rather fixing the privileged, the disloyal, and the out-and-out bastards firmly in his sights and pulling the trigger. It’s a profoundly moral film albeit one whose conclusions you might find troubling.

Rating: WWW


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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