Damián Szifron is perhaps best known in his native Argentina as the creator of the TV show Los Simuladores, which follows the exploits of an A-Team-esque group of confidence tricksters as they take on a series of jobs in Buenos Aires. The chances are, assuming that you are not Argentinian, you have seen or are aware of at least one of the foreign language remakes that have been given different titles in different markets around the world, even if you hadn’t heard Szifron’s name before. International recognition has now finally arrived for the director, though, thanks to the recent selection of his latest film Wild Tales by both Academy and Cannes judges. It may have lost out to Ida at the Oscars, and last year’s Palme d’Or went to Winter Sleep, but Szifron’s film did receive a ten minute standing ovation at Cannes (a little over the top, but presumably most people there are out of their minds) and has been delighting audiences around the world ever since. And rightly so: it’s great fun.
Wild Tales is a portmanteau: a series of six short stories, most of which are blackly comic, and all of which are based around the theme of vengeance. In each story at least one character feels wronged in some way or another and events rapidly spiral out of control as a result of their response, to the point where the main protagonists lose all or nearly all of their influence over the situation at hand. At the start of the film the credits sequence includes a series of animal illustrations; the point apparently being made is that there is an animal instinct in all human beings which, under extreme circumstances, cannot be hidden or controlled. The ‘best moments’ of each story, if you will, arrive when that animal instinct takes over, as if rational thought can no longer get a look-in.
In summary: a number of connected people are gathered together unknowingly on an airplane to share the same fate (Wild Tales was released in the UK in the same week as the Germanwings disaster, which was unfortunate, to say the least); a waitress in a late-night diner has a chance to exact revenge on a gangster who has caused her family great pain; a pair of drivers become embroiled in a bizarre road rage incident; a structural engineer / demolitions expert gets angry after his car is towed away and he is met by unapologetic bureaucracy when he tries to retrieve it; a family’s life is turned upside down by a hit-and-run incident; and a wedding turns sour when revelations about the groom surface.
Szifron infuses each of these tales with a delicious renegade spirit, sharp humour and sporadic cartoonish bursts of violence, meaning both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are obvious points of reference, while it’s also easy to see why it caught the attention of the Almodóvar Brothers, who join the list of producers. Watching each scene play out is a gripping experience, almost like seeing Pulp Fiction unfold for the first time once again (I said ‘almost’!) in the sense that you really have no idea how most of these short stories will end, and that’s exciting.
There’s a consistency of style, and a certain uniform slickness that cannot possibly cover up the underlying anarchy, but I thought it was a shame that there were few other links tying the tales together aside from style and theme. A deft transition from one story to another follows a driver on a rural road as he speeds along, and one or two more touches like this would have been welcome, even if they’re not wholly necessary; as it is most fade out to black or fade in, and characters stick to their own stories. A series of unusual camera angles are used across the different pieces (the inside of a kitchen cupboard, the inside of an overhead cabin locker, etc.), which at least indicates the presence of the same director and DP (Javier Juliá) on all six.
The actors involved, straight-faced at all times, generally perform with gusto; most were unknown to me beforehand, and they perform to an adequate standard. I enjoyed the ever-excellent Ricardo Darín, star of The Secrets In Their Eyes and Nine Queens (two of the best films to come out of Argentina in the past two decades), who plays the structural engineer in a short that recalls Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, while Érica Rivas is fantastic fun to watch as she tears up the wedding venue in the final piece, Hasta Que La Muerte Nos Separe (Till Death Do Us Part).
There are occasional minor dips in quality, but I stress that they are minor: overall Wild Tales is a fun, colourful collection of thematically-linked shorts and the humour is supremely off-kilter; it may not have won awards, but its nominations in the most prestigious film competitions have been richly deserved. Another film recommended; it has been a good month.
Directed by: Damián Szifron.
Written by: Damián Szifron.
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Darío Grandinetti, María Onetto, Nancy Dupláa, Osmar Núñez, César Bordón, Diego Gentile, María Marull, Germán de Silva, Diego Velázquez, Walter Donado, Mónica Villa.
Cinematography: Javier Juliá.
Editing: Damián Szifron, Pablo Barbieri Carrera.
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla.
Running Time: 121 minutes.