That escalated quickly
Six outrageous black comedies in one Oscar-nominated film
The six short stories in Argentine writer-director Damián Szifrón’s anthology film (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards) all live up to their collective title, Wild Tales. Each of them is a kind of uproarious tragicomedy, with a wickedly sardonic take on the crazed, over-the-top actions of their respective main characters. At times, the storytelling itself seems a little crazed as well.
Three of the tales involve misadventures with automobiles, and another is set mostly aboard a jet airliner whose passengers discover they are trapped in a bizarre revenge scheme. In others, a demolitions expert gets into a one-man war over parking tickets; a wealthy businessman proposes a series of bribes to protect his son from a hit-and-run conviction; and a waitress and a cook plot lethal revenge when the former recognizes a customer as a villain from her family’s unhappy past.
One of the automobile episodes features chase-and-crash action, but most of the drama in all six tales is a matter of outlandish, enraged and (at times) savage behavior in relatively confined circumstances—a dreary cafe, the parlor/living room of a swanky mansion, a set of government offices, the passenger cabin of that airliner, a wedding reception in a large ballroom.
“Pasternak,” the airliner episode, has a brief, eerie resemblance to the recent Germanwings debacle, but whatever its chilling ironies, the episode’s exaggerated coincidences reduce it to the level of jokey extravaganza. Placement of the entire episode before the opening credits is, however, a joke on the audience that may have its own mildly chilling effect.
The cafe episode (“The Rats”) and the bribery episode (“The Deal”) are dialogue-heavy tales in which the characters get trapped in the increasingly convoluted logic of their own unexpectedly complicated schemes. “The Rats” has the greater dramatic impact, while “The Deal” is more dispassionate in its dissection of corruption and social privilege.
“Bombita” begins with Simon (Argentine star Ricardo Darín) supervising the demolition of a massive storage facility and then finding his car has been towed away while he was buying a birthday cake for his daughter. Simon’s ensuing rage over the city’s traffic bureaucracy and its seemingly impenetrable structure of fees and fines soon escalates into radical forms of very uncivil disobedience.
The most dynamic and pungent action comes in “Road to Hell,” a ferocious little epic of road rage involving a wealthy-looking guy (Leonardo Sbaraglia) driving a sleek new sedan and a scruffy-looking thug (Walter Donado) in a banged-up all-terrain vehicle. Foolish macho posturing escalates into a fight to the finish, and the finish is devastatingly apt.
The final episode, “Till Death Do Us Part,” with its farcical shambles of a wedding reception, is the most brilliantly and elaborately developed tale, character-wise and entertainment-wise. The very feisty bride (…rica Rivas) and the complacently arrogant groom (Diego Gentile) survive their compounded wedding fiasco well enough to make this last episode a small masterpiece of acid-tinged romantic comedy.