Wild Tales

 

Cast: Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Erica Rivas, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Julieta Zylberberg, Dario Grandinetti

Director: Damian Szifrón

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

by Jericho Cerrona


Remarkably cohesive and deviously entertaining, Argentinine writer-director Damian Szifrón's anthology of six vignettes highlighting themes of class warfare, dehumanization via social institutions, and escalating revenge is only hampered by an insistence on tipping its modus operandi early on and then continuously repeating the thesis. Being an anthology film, it goes without saying that some segments will be more successful than others, but what's most refreshing is how the film feels like a coherent vision rather than a series of disconnected sketches of varying quality. Of course, this is due to the fact that Szifrón is fully in control of each short, rather than bringing in different filmmakers to bring their own unique spin on a common thematic angle. What cannot be denied, even in the segments that don't quite work as well as they should, is that Szifrón is a born filmmaker; able to conjure scenes of tense drama, unbearable tension, and uproarious gallows humor from the most unexpected sources. In its best moments, Wild Tales gives one the kind of euphoric sensation that absolutely anything can happen.

Szifrón's central theme which runs through all six shorts is the idea that we are all to some degree prisoners to a particular class system and that social institutions create a false prism which obscures our authentic selves. This satirical bent is least successful in the segments where things slow down enough for the audience to question such ideas; such as a story involving a bomb expert who becomes unglued after a series of parking violations and one where a wealthy couple attempt to bribe their Mexican groundskeeper into taking the fall for their privileged son's criminal behavior. Much better are the segments that only utilize social commentary under the guise of genre entertainment; like a riotously insane road chase/action bit involving a wealthy businessman and rogue redneck and the closing short featuring an unhinged wedding ceremony. These in particular highlight Szifrón's strengths as a master of movement, framing, and mise-en-scene; able to conjure belly laughs and then stomach-turning queasiness at laughing in the first place. The highway chase that follows the upper-class fellow gradually morphing from smug entitlement to fearful apprehension then back to unstable aggression, is a tour de force of action filmmaking; complete with shattering glass, overturned vehicles, and close-quarters scuffles which plays like an extended domino-effect live action cartoon. The tale of a wedding ceremony gone awry, meanwhile, is perhaps the film's pinnacle; an Almodovar-inspired melodrama that builds piece by piece until it resembles nothing short of a sustained comedic set-piece that somehow finds room for actress Erica Rivas to run away with the entire film.

Wild Tales will no doubt be praised for its visual inventiveness and over-the-top eccentricity, and for good reason. Taking purely as anarchic escapism, Szifrón's ability to keep the audience enthralled is without question the picture's greatest strength. However, there's a definite sense that he's also trying to say something about the sociopolitical aspects of life in Argentina (which incidentally, is universal enough to translate to other countries), and as such, the segments that don't work strictly on the level of genre entertainment are problematic since Szifrón seems unwilling to push the commentary past the obvious. The idea of resentment boiling under the surface of class and socioeconomic conditions that could explode at any moment is a tantalizing motif, but in the slower vignettes that focus more on character drama with hints of macabre humor, Szifrón never takes his material into transgressive territory. What this means is that as a whole, Wild Tales never quite transcends its subject matter, even as at least two of the six segments remain brilliantly self-contained exercises. What one comes away with most, however, is the notion of Szifrón entertaining Hollywood meetings with top studio brass for the next action franchise or Judd Apatow-approved ensemble comedy. Let's hope, for the state of cinema, that he remains firmly grounded in Argentina.