Friday, March 27, 2015

WILD TALES: 6 Stories Viciously Satirizing Human Behavior

WILD TALES (Dir. Damián Szifrón, 2014)

I loved IDA, and was glad it won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar, but I totally would've been cool if Argentina's selection, Damián Szifrón's WILD TALES, opening today at an indie arthouse near me, had gotten the gold instead for 2014.

A protégé of Pedro Almodóvar, who co-produced with his brother Agustin, Szifrón has concocted an epic collection of six stories of bloody vengeance, that had me from the get go with an airplane-set pre-credits vignette.

In it, a couple of passengers, a model and a music critic, aboard a flight mid-air while flirting discover that they both knew a man by the name of Gabriel Pastemak. The model (Maria Marull) used to date Pastemak, but they broke up on bad terms; the critic (Dario Grandinetti) had ripped apart one of the Pastemak's classical compositions, which ended the guy's musical career.

A woman overhearing their conversation reveals that she was Pastemak’s elementary school teacher; another his former best friend. One by one, it turns out that everybody on the plane has a uneasy connection to Pastemak, and here’s the kicker: Pastemak is the pilot flying the plane.

The second story concerns a waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) at a roadside diner that recognizes a customer (Cesar Bordon) as being the crooked politician who ruined her family, and drove her father to suicide. The cook (Rita Cortese) suggests adding rat poison to his food, and Zylerberg is very tempted, but reluctant.

The third and most thrilling chapter depicts an extreme case of road rage with a premise that plays like a mini-version of DUEL. Leonardo Sbaraglia plays a slick corporate-type tooling across the countryside in his brand new sports car, who gets in a violent battle with a lower class workman (Walter Donado) in a beat-up old pick-up truck.

Next up, Ricardo Darín as an explosives expert in Buenos Aires who faces off against the city’s civic bureaucrats who keep towing his car. Darín, a superstar in Argentina best known here for his work in the 2009 Best Foreign Picture winner THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, is superb as the beleaguered man who has reached his breaking point, FALLING DOWN-style.

Following that, Oscar Martinez portrays a rich man whose son is guilty of a hit and run accident that caused the death of a pregnant woman. Wanting to keep his son out of prison, Martinez and his lawyer (Osmar Núñez) plot to have his gardener (Germán de Silva) take the fall by claiming he was behind the wheel. This plan will be extremely expensive because Martinez will have to pay off his lawyer, the prosecutor, the cops, as well as the gardener to make it fly. Exasperated by these “vultures,” as he calls them, Martinez loses patience with the negotiations, and that’s where I’ll leave this well played out premise.

The concluding and lengthiest episode, “Until Death Do Us Part,” depicts a wedding reception that goes to hell and back again. The bride (Érica Rivas) finds out that her husband (Diego Gentile, who looks a bit Bradley Cooper-ish) had cheated on her with one of their guests, and, well, you know what they say about a woman scorned?

Each piece of this anthology film puzzle is viciously effective, as well as visually pleasing (kudos to cinematographer Javier Julia). It’s a sharp-witted, savage satire of human behavior, that while very dark, even allows for at least one feel-good ending in the batch (maybe two, but that’s debatable).

WILD TALES is in turns, exciting, wickedly funny, poetically powerful, and, yes, very wild indeed. I enjoyed all six tales individually immensely, maybe “Little Bomb” the best, and really loved how they worked together both tonally and thematically. It may not have won the Oscar (it did sweep the Argentinian Academy Awards however), but it repeatedly won me over as it kept topping itself up until and including the very end.

More later...

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