Monday, April 13, 2015

Sorting Through the "Wild Tales"

Revenge is so overdone.  Vengeance, retribution, and the baser forms of justice have become terribly convenient excuses in films for characters to behave in all sorts of extreme and irrational ways.  So it's nice to find a movie with a sense of humor about it.
Damian Szifron's "Wild Tales" defies easy description.  It's an anthology film, made up of six stories about violence and vengeance. All can be classified as black comedies to some degree, but the style and tone of each short is a bit different.  Some are told in a pulpy, stylized manner full of outrageous moments, and others are more sedate.  "Wild Tales" hails from Argentina, where it was a smash hit last year.  The Academy gave it a Best Foreign Film nomination, despite the movie not having remotely the amount of gravitas that you'd imagine would be necessary to win such a distinction.  Frankly, I don't understand the level of acclaim, as there are a few duds among the six stories, and I think the only way to be fair to the whole of "Wild Tales" is to take each of the six parts on their own.
First we have "Pasternak," the best and the shortest of the segments  It's a pre-title stinger to get us warmed up, practically a gag, about passengers on an airplane.  Providing much more description would ruin it, but it's such a wonderfully dark, mean, absurd little joke of a short.  I fully expect this one to start circulating as a viral video at some point, and absolutely recommend a viewing even if you're not in the mood to sit through the whole two hours of the film. 
"The Rats" is out and out comedic, about a diner waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) and cook (Rita Cortese), debating over whether to poison a loan shark customer.  It's a little light on concept and underdeveloped, but executed well enough to earn some laughs.  "The Strongest," about two drivers (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado) and a case of road rage, is also very bare bones, but the gusto with which the director and the actors unleash themselves on each other makes it a winner.  The escalation of the situation goes on exactly as long as it needs to, and lets the crazy hit right where it has the most impact.  There's a lot of very physical stuff going on in this one, and it's impressive to watch it all unfold.
Things take a turn for the worse when we reach the more serious material.  "Bombita" follows a man's troubles with his city's parking enforcement. This one rubbed me the wrong way, and I think it's because the main character, Simon (Ricardo Darin), is difficult to empathize with.  The story is fairly predictable and not nearly as well deployed as the previous segments, with an ending that is too pat and abrupt.  Then comes "The Bill," which is a better effort overall, but tonally and thematically feels like it belongs in a different film, or perhaps it would have been better being developed into its own feature.  After his young son causes a terrible car accident that will almost certainly mean jail time, a wealthy father (Oscar Martinez) conspires to pay an employee to take the blame instead.  A fairly serious domestic drama unfolds that isn't operating on remotely the same wavelength as any of the other stories, and it suffers the most for being confined to a short running time.  It's a shame because "The Bill" isn't a bad starting point, and I'd like to see more.
And so we come to the grand finale, "Til Death Do Us Part," where a bridezilla goes on a rampage and an extravagant wedding reception implodes.   The bride, Romina (Erica Rivas), discovers that her new husband Ariel (Diego Gentile) has been cheating on her, and decides to make him pay in the most humiliating and public ways available to her.  This is the longest segment of "Wild Tales," and one of the most polarizing, as it elicits more cringing than laughs.  I enjoyed it, because I had no idea where the story was going from one minute to the next, and because Erica Rivas gives Romina's emotional extremes some real pathos and fire as needed.
So all in all, more good than bad.  Some of the humor was awfully low-brow for my tastes, and it's definitely not for everyone, but "Wild Tales" is one of the most accessible foreign comedies I've come across in a long while.  After all, revenge is awfully satisfying, and everyone needs an excuse to let loose once in a while.

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