Sony Pictures Classics
Anthology films seem to back in vogue these past few years, but the vast majority of them – if not all – are focused in the horror genre. It makes sense as those kinds of stories are a more natural fit for visual or visceral punchlines, but a new Argentinean film has proven that the format also works for darkly comical observations of modern day frustrations.
Wild Tales, written and directed by Damián Szifrón, features six shorts connected only in theme. Each of them features characters brought to their breaking point by mistreatment – real or perceived – from others. Class, bureaucracy, road rage, infidelity and more are the fuel in a series of fires that mix social commentary and character drama in an immensely entertaining inferno.
The pre-title sequence is deceptively one-note with a wicked stinger at the end, but that note builds beautifully to a brilliant finale. Two strangers on a plane make small talk across the aisle and discover that they’ve both crossed paths with the same man years ago. And then a third stranger chimes in, and the story takes a turn. It’s a short segment, the shortest in the film, but it hits the funny bone hard. The energy scales back dramatically for the next segment as a waitress in a mostly deserted diner realizes their sole customer is a gangster from her home town responsible for her father’s death. There’s a slower pace here as the focus is on her internal struggle as to whether or not she should exact some manner of revenge on the man before her, and it’s engaging enough even if the payoff is somewhat underwhelming.
Next up is one of the two finest shorts in the film as a man in a sports car clashes with another in a beat-up junker. It starts like a mini Duel but quickly and brutally becomes a full-contact battle between the two. It’s filled with moments that would be the end of any other road rage clash, but here each finishing move instead segues beautifully into the next. The two men are struggling to fight and to survive, and it makes for an exciting, tense and glorious nail-biter. Ricardo Darin stars in the fourth segment as a frustrated citizen fed up with a system designed to bleed his wallet dry with fees, tickets and increasing annoyances. In addition to losing his grip on his anger he’s also watching as his family slips throough his fingers. Did I mention he’s a demolitions expert? This one is as much a family drama as it is a suspenser, and Darin ensures an honest humanity stays at its core.
The penultimate short features a well-to-do couple woken in the middle of the night by their twentysomething son who’s panicking after hitting and killing a woman with his car and then fleeing the scene. We stay with the family as they watch the news and bring in their lawyer to deal with the situation. And by deal with it I mean sidestep responsibility completely. There’s a nice back and forth here as the father’s instinct shifts in regard to how far he’ll go for his son, and it has a nicely definitive ending. Finally, tying for number one short of the film is a segment about a bride who discovers at her wedding that her new husband has been cheating on her. What follows is a wonderfully chaotic first dance between husband and wife that obliterates the party with pure, unadulterated chaos.
Wild Tales is a rare marvel in its existence as an anthology film without a single misfire, but it’s more than just a fantastic piece of revenge cinema. It’s also a gorgeously-shot, frequently funny movie that makes some very real observations about human behavior.
The Upside: Clever; biting black comedy; beautifully shot; an anthology rarity in that there’s not a single dud
The Downside: No connective tissue beyond the thematic; one of the six shorts is merely okay
On the Side: Wild Tales is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at tonight’s Academy Awards but lost to the inferior Ida.