Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes)

Argentina (2014) Dir. Damián Szifrón

In what has to be considered a rarity, this compendium of delightfully dark short tales based around the themes of violence, revenge and hasty actions under pressure is in fact the product of just one director and not a combined effort from numerous hands. Will some of the skits are quite nebulous, others give a fairly clear insight into what upset Damián Szifrón so much that he had to exorcise his anger through the sextet of disparate situations presented here.

Szifrón set out his agenda with a brisk but wonderful pre-credits statement of intent featuring a group of passengers on a plane who discover that they all were given prepaid tickets by a mystery source and they all, at one time or another, knew one Gabriel Pasternak. Coincidence?

Our first post credits story is another quick affair set in a small diner on a rainy night in which a lone customer (Darío Grandinetti) feels the cold shoulder of the waitress (Julieta Zylberberg), who recognises the man as the loan shark who ruined her family, driving her father to suicide. The cook (Rita Cortese) suggests putting rat poison in the meal by way of revenge.

Next, a flash businessman Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia) becomes frustrated by the driver of an old pickup truck (Walter Donado) whose dawdling antics prevent Diego from overtaking. When he eventually does, Diego gives the other man the finger and speeds off until he gets a flat tyre. The other vehicle then quietly arrives at the scene and he driver is not stopping to help.

Arguably the best segment of the whole film which will no doubt carry the deepest universal resonance, the supreme Ricardo Darín is Simón Fischer, an explosives expert whose car is towed away when he stops to buy his daughter’s birthday cake. When he goes to claim his car from the pound Simón explains that there were no yellow lines so the charge is wrong but the cashier basically tells him to deal with it.

Simón is late home and his wife Victoria (Nancy Dupláa) is not impressed by him putting the car before his daughter. Each time Simón tries to plead his case with the tow company and the authorities he is fobbed off with the usual rote bureaucratic nonsense ending up with him paying more fines until eventually he snaps and decides to leave the tow company a little gift.

The next clip is a straight up cynical drama in which the spoiled son of a wealthy man Mauricio (Oscar Martínez) is involved in the fatal hit and run of a pregnant woman while driving his father’s car. In order to save the family name, Mauricio and his lawyer (Osmar Núñez) concoct a plan where the gardener Casero (Germán de Silva) is paid half a million pesos to take the blame instead.

Finally the happiest night of a young bride’s life is ruined when Romina (Érica Rivas) discovers during the first dance that her new husband Ariel (Diego Gentile) had slept with a work colleague. Devastated doesn’t cover who Romina feels about this but after a chance encounter with a chef at the hotel she has plans for pay Ariel back with a foolproof and long term plan.

I hope that whatever was aching inside Szifrón he managed to get it off his chest by the time filming was completed otherwise he might need further therapy. The viewer however might find this a therapeutic watch, especially the car towing story, as Szifrón has picked up on many incidences in which have affected a vast number of people across the globe on a daily basis.

We can only hope that people watching don’t react the same way as the characters do here but the support for their actions will be readily cheered I am sure and no doubt imagined under the same circumstances. Szifrón obviously isn’t advocating violence, bribery or murder to solve issues but his scorn is no doubt widely felt and aimed at the right people.

The legendary and incomparable Pedro Almodóvar is one of the very enthusiastic producers of Wild Tales and while there are echoes of his flamboyant style and darkly satirical bent somewhere in the DNA of this film, this is purely coincidental but welcome nonetheless. Szifrón has only made two features prior to this, his name mostly made with shorts films and TV shows, so this film sees him enjoying the best of both worlds.

At two hours there is a sense that Szifrón is running out of steam by the time the final story comes around, which admittedly drags on a little longer than it should. The earlier films are a shorter at first, gradually increasing in length and as opined before, things peak with the Ricardo Darín led film. That is not to say the final two shorts are bad as the closing acts but they feel somewhat anticlimactic in the wake of their superb predecessor.

The themes may be universal and nothing out of the ordinary in their set ups but the fallout in each case has been given some dramatic (or sardonic) licence which run from the amusing to the extreme (if seeing a man relieving himself on a car windscreen is your idea of fun then you’re welcome) but Szifrón dutifully keeps his tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Everything is superbly shot which each segment afforded its own unique approach apropos to the mood, setting and theme – for instance the prologue on the plane is intimate, the road rage clip is spacious and intense, the hit and run tale is glossily yet clinically shot and the wedding party is extravagant and colourful.  

If anyone suggests the portmanteau movie is passé or irrelevant in modern cinema, they should be pointed in the direction of Wild Tales to be proven wrong. Astute, acerbic but  most of all, utterly absorbing.

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