Wild Tales (2014) / Comedy-Drama
aka Relatos Salvajes
MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Oscar Martinez, Erica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Dario Grandinetti
Director: Damian Szifron
Screenplay: Damian Szifron
Review published April 13, 2015
Damian Szifron (On Probation) writes and directs this perverse black comedy short film anthology from Argentina, nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2014. It contains six Spanish-language shorts, and like most collections, some segments work better than others. Most of the tales in Wild Tales have to do with people run amok, letting their inner dark side out when allowing themselves to be guided by frustration, fear or possible humiliation. Situations run out of control when people go out of control, and sometimes those situations can spiral into creating a bigger mess than ever thought imaginable.
The stories start with the shortest, "Pasternak", about an airplane flight in which the passengers begin to suspect a fated connection to one another. The second, "The Rats", concerns a waitress who finds herself in the unenviable position of waiting on a table with a man who ruined her family. Third is "The Strongest", about two different drivers who get themselves into a heated road-rage situation out in the rural roadways. "Little Bomb" is next, where the bureaucracy that comes into play when a man gets a parking ticket he feels he shouldn't get causes a ripple effect in his life. Fifth is "The Proposal", where a wealthy father tries to find a way to keep his negligent son from going to prison for manslaughter after a hit and run accident. And the capper is, "Until Death Do Us Part", where a newlywed couple's marriage gets put to an immediate test when the bride begins to suspect the groom may not have been faithful during their courtship.
"Pasternak" is a brilliant short that is not only very darkly funny in and of itself, but it adeptly sets the proper tone for the rest of this wickedly smart and funny film, with plenty of shocks and surprises to be found in store in each one of the subsequent tales. The only downside is that it is, perhaps arguably, the best of what the movie has to offer, with each subsequent chapter growing a bit less confident, funny, or clever as the one that comes before. As a runner-up, "The Strongest" is also worth a mention as the one that best could have been its own movie -- a tale of two drivers who don't know when to give up. As a successor to such other road terror movies like Duel and The Hitcher, it could have been a modern-day classic of suspense with a solid director like Szifron at the helm. In between these strongest pieces, "The Rats" is more along the lines of an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" in its macabre presentation, generating great suspense in what happens to the man who is consuming a meal that may or may not be full of rat poison.
Alas, though it has a lot of spirit and gusto, the longest and perhaps least successful of the stories is left for last. It becomes a miniature version of War of the Roses, except without the years-long levels of angst between a bitter married couple. It's not unwatchable, and has its entertainment value, but the pay-off doesn't quite befit the build-up, especially since we've seen a number of better examples of how to tell a proper story from Szifron just before. It also comes after an entry ("The Proposal") that is about as weak, in which the main crux of the story is a money haggle between parties trying to exert their influence on a wealthy man to determine which "truth" will ultimately prevail.
Szifron shows, if nothing else, he is a confident master craftsman both in word and moving picture, and works with beautiful unity with the stellar cinematography and excellent music selections, co-produced by Pedro Almodovar himself, to form a very strong movie experience that captivates throughout, even if the stories don't always pan out with the brilliance of its opening gut punch. Szifron is also blessed with as strong a cast of actors as he could corral in Argentina, or even the world, with each component putting a great deal of nuance and personality to roles that are offered very little time to develop before they're thrown into the proverbial fire of each story's twisted thematic underpinnings. In the end, Szifron suggests, we all have the capability of heinous acts, if our pride and vanity are pushed just enough.
Ultimately, the first four films are strong enough to carry the film to become one of the year's best darkly comic entertainments, which some may find of similar ilk to the earlier works of Quentin Tarantino is tone and overall audaciousness. It hits far more than it misses, and when it hits, it explodes, making Wild Tales one of the most entertaining, viciously acute, and irresistibly raucous films of 2014.
©2015 Vince Leo