Compelling performances and brilliant storytelling apart, this must be seen because it’s delightfully funny
Cast: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Ricardo Darín, Erica Rivas
Director: Damián Szifron
Year of Release: 2014
BURSTING A BLOOD VESSEL
Of the seven deadly sins, wrath is perhaps the most common. Much like the weather, it affects us all. With Wild Tales (2014), Argentinean director Damián Szifron had created a cinematic anthology of six stories, which together seemed to do the impossible – they seamlessly exhausted the myriad facets of a single emotion. Szifron milked fury for all it was worth. In cinema, like in literature, themes often prove circumscriptive. In a lesser film, the recurrence of a motif would have maybe seemed predictable. Each time, say, you’d see anger made manifest, you’d sigh, “Oh, there it is again.” But in Wild Tales, the repetition of violence and vengeance is delectable and singularly novel.
Wild Tales was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Though it lost out to the beautifully crafted Polish film Ida, it certainly did deserve a prize for the year’s best opening sequence. Much like the later chapters of the film, the film’s first story, ‘Pasternak’ begins with an everyday experience that’s deceptively commonplace. A woman boards a flight. She finds that the man flirting with her from across the aisle had once slighted an ex-boyfriend she had cheated on. Soon enough, they discover that everyone on board knows Gabriel Pasternak. There’s his elementary school teacher, his boss, his psychiatrist, and he bears a grudge against each one of them. Worryingly, he now sits in the cockpit. There is a tension and an inherent black humour here which defines the film.
In the opening credits of Wild Tales, we see exquisite portraits of animals from the wild, and the film quite clearly captures its characters in moments when they give in to their animal instincts. At no point, though, does the film resort to moralising. It doesn’t stress on comeuppance. It is all about surrender, and there is undoubtedly some pleasure that comes with this unthinking submission. In ‘The Strongest’, for instance, we see Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Mario (Walter Donado) take on each other after what could have otherwise been dismissed as a trivial moment of road rage. Watching them take turns to clobber each other is unnerving and exhilarating. There’s something theatrical about wrath. It invites an audience. I’ll say this. I like Wild Tales because I like a good fight.
The sound of sirens can often be heard in the film’s six sequences. Police and medical intervention are required frequently. There’s blood. There’s vomit. Cars get blown up. Knives are brandished. People get hurt. A cop once asks, “Crime of passion?” The question is a pertinent one. We could possibly trace the cause that effects a moment of rage, but can we ever ascribe to it a coherent motive? If anger is an intrinsic part of our natural makeup, how quick should we be when labelling it a vice? In ‘Little Bomb’, we see Simón Fischer (Ricardo Darín) rage against governmental bureaucracy because of a parking ticket, but his reaction to apathetic authority is inexplicably disproportionate. You might ask which came first – the egg of his discontent or the chicken of his belligerent persona?
Compelling performances and brilliant storytelling apart, Wild Tales must be seen because it can be delightfully funny. In ‘The Rats’, for instance, a cook asks a waitress if expired rat poison is more or less effective when trying to kill a person. In ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, the bride (Erica Rivas) wrecks her own wedding. She throws her wedding cake to the floor, sends a guest flying through a glass door and makes love to a stranger in the middle of it all. She is once told, “If you end up wondering what others think, you’re screwed kiddo.” So, go ahead, forget that world and watch Wild Tales for a start.