The title is no lie. The six tales that comprise “Wild Tales” are indeed wild – wild enough to have made the film one of the best, by far, of 2014, only now opening here despite its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
Actually, the title in Spanish is “Relatos Salvajes” which translates more closely as “Savage Tales.”
And that fits, too. Here are six stories of people acting savagely. Mostly, though, they are stories of people getting revenge. They don’t just get mad, they get even. Put them all together as Argentinian filmmaker Damian Szifron does and they comprise the best movie, by far, that I’ve seen so far in 2015. It was nominated for an Oscar and, when it was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it’s said to have received a 10-minute ovation.
If I’d been there, I’d have enthusiastically been among those giving it to the film. It’s wildly funny in some of the tales and, in one of them, about a wealthy family trying to bargain their spoiled, terror-stricken son out of going to prison for a brutal and drunken hit-and-run car accident, horrifying.
It ends with a wedding but it’s one that even wedding haters might want to witness – one where the bride discovers that her cheating groom has invited the office co-worker he’s sleeping with. Glorious havoc results. Let’s put it this way, by the time the bride and groom are ceremonially bounced up on down while the band plays traditional Jewish wedding horas (“Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and “Hava Nagila”), you’re not sure they won’t be bounced high and then deliberately dropped on the ground.
What follows after that makes for a wildly satisfying illustration of just how bumpy the course of true love can actually be.
If all weddings were like this one, who among us could resist going to every last one?
I had a marvelous time at “Wild Tales.” The Argentinian filmmaker (writer and director) is a young man who will be 40 in July and who seems to have been mostly active in Argentinian television until now. His co-producers are Pedro Almodovar and his brother Agustin.
Not the least of this movie’s distinctions is that Szifron is, visually, a very gifted filmmaker with an enormously witty and flamboyant skill with the camera. Right at the beginning of the film, he gives us a hilariously black comic little drollery aboard an airplane which begins, no less, with a little sequence that seems to have been filmed from inside one of the passenger cabin’s overhead bins. We should have known right there that the filmmaker was announcing “I’m going to be having a little fun with you” for the next 10 minutes.
But we don’t. We have to find out for ourselves – after, for instance, a classical music critic on the plane tries suavely to pick up the young woman across the aisle and we soon discover that everyone on the plane has something in common.
When we find out what – and what happens next – the director gives us his title credits. “Wild Tales” leading actors are then introduced along with pictures of wild animals.
Then we join a young waitress on a very rainy night who recognizes the restaurant’s only customer, a very rude and snotty fellow indeed. She tells the restaurant cook, a tough old woman who’s done time in the joint (“prison’s not so bad, it just has a bad reputation”).
Will justice be served along with the fellow’s sandwich and fries? Stay tuned.
The next little yarn is a road rage fantasy that escalates from foul language and flipping the bird to the use of bodily excretions as a weapon of revenge – and worse.
No matter how temperamental a driver you are, you may never lose your temper on a highway again.
And that, of course, naturally leads to that hub of submerged and boiling emotion and institutionalized citizen abuse, the DMV, where we join the horror story of a man whose car is unjustly towed away – and then, just as unjustly, his life. Until a kind of moment of truth arrives.
The tale of the spoiled young drunk kid who accidentally kills someone with his car while driving is, as I said, the only one that isn’t the slightest bit funny, not even in the pitch black way the rest of it is. But it is a gripping horror to watch the boy’s father try to use his extreme wealth to buy his son’s way out of trouble, only to discover that his own immorality can be matched and exceeded by the cupidity and ethical abysses of others. The climax of that particular tale is sudden and altogether ghastly – all the more so because it comes with such pitiless swiftness.
It’s at that point in the movie where you might have a sudden twitch of unease that tells you that Szifron is not above having some ultra-dark fun at his audience’s expense.
But just when we might fear he’ll morph into an Austrian cinematic sadist, a la Michael Haneke – the only filmmaker I’ve ever thought deserved to be punched while watching one of his films – Szifron presents us with the rollicking wedding from hell.
I wouldn’t miss this one if I were you. Me? Whatever movie Szifron wants to make from now on, I’m there.
Starring: Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Monica Villa, Rita Cortese
Director: Damian Szifron
Running time: 122 minutes
Rating: R for violence, language, brief sexuality and bodily excretions on camera.
The Lowdown: Oscar-nominated film of six tales of revenge and really bad behavior. In Spanish with subtitles.