Truth in advertising. Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” is exactly that: a collection of surprising and unexpectedly wild short stories.
Though it feels like there’s going to be a connection, the individual stories share neither characters nor plotlines. Instead, they align along a similar theme: revenge, with an occasional overlay of class struggle. This Oscar nominee from Argentina also carries a cynicism about systemic corruption that suggests Szifron believes it may actually be implanted in homo sapiens’ DNA.
In the most primal of these stories, a guy in an expensive car, tooling down the freeway, finds himself blocked by a late-model POS that won’t let him pass. When he finally draws even with the other car, he makes a point of rolling down his window to shout insults.
That comes back to haunt him a few miles later when he suffers a flat tire and his antagonist catches up with him. It’s amazing how quickly things go nuclear and a hurled curse ignites a life-and-death situation.
We get more of a slow burn when a demolitions expert (Ricardo Darin) gets his car unjustly towed by the city and tries to right this injustice. The tit-for-tat is more abstract in a story about a powerful executive whose son is involved in a fatal hit-and-run. When father tries to pay someone else to confess, negotiations get sticky.
It’s all played with a straight face, which makes the film’s outrageous turns that much funnier. More impressively, Szifron gives each segment a different look and feel, from a rainy night at a noirish diner to a posh hotel and a lavish Jewish wedding (which turns into a wedding planner’s worst nightmare).
It’s a fast-paced, sometimes punishing film, with moments of outrageous violence and even more outrageous personal judgment. As Szifron illuminates, we are all controlled, deep down, by that little lizard brain that throws off our most primitive emotional responses to stressful situations. No matter how civilized we think we are, when push comes to shove, we’re all liable to shoot first and ask questions later. Hence, the need for stricter gun control.
Wickedly funny and occasionally shockingly grisly, “Wild Tales” is film-making at its most friskily entertaining and surprising. Even if it doesn’t win the Oscar on Sunday, it’s a film to be prized for its audacious energy.