“A chilling comedy…”That’s how my Cinemark app described “Wild Tales.” After viewing the trailer, I was intrigued enough to give it a try (not even knowing that the film was nominated for an Academy Award). I’m glad I was open to it, because it turned out to be a dark, twisted, but ultimately satisfying filmgoing experience.
Directed by Damián Szifron, this Argentinian film is an anthology of six unconnected stories that explore the savage side of human nature — you know, where the patina of what we call “civilization” dissolves and pure instinct kicks in. These are tales of revenge (by and large) and they are told with the right amount of economy and exposition. Szifron’s screenplay is peppered with improbable, but novel, twists and turns that kept me (and Julie) thoroughly entertained for two hours. What kept the movie fresh is that Szifron almost never resorted to standard Hollywood narrative structures. In other words, I didn’t know where the stories were going — and it’s those sort of surprises that are in short supply in most mainstream American films these days. Take any weekend movie release and you’ll find your kiddie film, a comic book or “In a World” post-apocolypic/sci-fi movie, a pissed off lone white guy out for justice or revenge story, a touching young adult drama, a comedy that probably features someone from SNL, and a movie involving some kind of a gang. We’ve been fed a steady diet of these films for years (if not decades) and after a short while, they cease to surprise because the format is rarely altered.
In “Wild Tales,” Szifron doesn’t entirely transcend predictability, but he side-steps it often enough that he’s forgiven for his lack of inventiveness at times. The first “tale” is by far the funniest because it set the tone for the rest of the stories. I won’t give away “Pasternak,” but it’s safe to say that it involves strangers on a plane whose fate rests in the hands of one warped person. Other stories like, “Las Ratas” and “Bombita” were the ones that veered into conventional narrative territory, but “El más fuerte” and “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” were very good. The audience reaction of the mostly gray-haired set (and, just so you know, I’ve been watching gray-haired set movies since I was in my 20s) was extremely positive. I thought the appeal of a movie like this would be a generational thing (i.e., people who love “Heathers”), but there was one older woman laughing so hard during “Wild Tales,” I thought she was going to choke on her spit. Yes, the movie is that funny at times.
If “Wild Tales” comes to a cineplex near you, do yourself a favor and see it. I went in with only a brief description of what it was about, and came away thinking (chuckling) about it for a couple of days.