by Jordan Canahai
Amongst the many movie genres I can think of there are few that tend to prove more problematic than the anthology film. This can often be attributed to how wildly inconsistent most are, not merely in the way episodes can vary in overall quality, but also in how its difficult for a style or tone to be sustained throughout. That’s part of what makes writer/director Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales, an Argentinian anthology that was in contention for Best Foreign Language film at this years Academy Awards, such a breath of fresh air. The six stories that comprise Wild Tales all feature seemingly average people pushed past their breaking points and are unified by themes of revenge, extraordinary coincidence, and cruelly ironic circumstances. Each of the darkly comic episodes are fully imagined and tense enough to function as drama, but unfold with the zaniness of slapstick. This is the movie Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez wish they had made with Four Rooms.
You know you’re in for one wild ride from the film’s first brief opening segment, in which passengers on a commercial flight discover an improbable series of connections just in time to realize the consequences. The same tone and theme carries on into the second segment about a waitress who must serve the mobster that ruined her father’s life, and the third in which a businessman flips off a rude driver only to have to confront him in person when his tire goes flat further up the road. The fourth segment proves more expansive, focusing on a mild-mannered civil engineer who loses his temper over an unfair parking ticket, which in turn leads to him losing his wife and job until he feels his only response is to take drastic action against the system. The fifth segment proves the darkest and involves a wealthy man’s attempt to bribe his gardener into taking the fall after his son kills a pregnant woman in a drunk driving hit-and-run, while his lawyer and the local prosecutor hope to profit as well. The sixth and final segment sees a lavish wedding degenerate into a series of escalating displays of bad behavior after the bride realizes during the reception that her husband is having an affair with one of the guests.
It’s important to note none of the characters here are merely innocent victims of cruel fate. Although external forces do contribute to their various misfortunes, they’re just as culpable by their own choices. Still, none of the protagonists are merely awful people who deserve whatever they get. Despite working in broad strokes, Szifron’s screenplay finds ample room to give his characters enough depth and motivation to sustain interest throughout, while his outstanding ensemble cast does an excellent job hitting just the right notes for every scene. Each segment builds quickly from brief, comforting opening moments until things begin to slowly spin out of control. Szifron also proves an inventive filmmaker in keeping the stakes and tension high as his episodes build to such crazy extremes—such as in the segment with the two drivers as their roadside argument escalates into a violent life-or-death melee, or in the wedding sequence in which a beautiful waltz between the newlyweds to Strauss’s Blue Danube leads to the revelation of cheating. Overall, the quality of filmmaking in Wild Tales puts the overwhelming majority of American comedies to shame.
While Wild Tales might not rank among the most substantial or socially conscious examples of Argentinian cinema to break though in recent years, it’s nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining two hours at the movies—a demented and delirious funhouse ride that has more laughs and gasps than any Hollywood blockbuster currently in theaters—and stands as further proof of the vitality of its country’s filmmaking strength.
Watch the trailer for Wild Tales
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