Wild Tales (2015)
115 min., rated R.
Wild is right. Argentina and Spain's Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar-nominated anthology "Wild Tales" spins six yarns within an omnibus structure, all of which spiral out of control, albeit deliberately. There are only so many original stories to tell, but writer-director Damián Szifrón finds a way of making his sextet of stories—each one about people behaving badly when situations turn ugly—unpredictable and wickedly funny with a satirist's eye. That is if audiences are willing to laugh through situations that could be seen as morbid and extreme. What's more, all six tales are so strong, despite a structure that sometimes puts an entire film in danger of being rendered hit-and-miss and uneven almost by default. All of them vary in tone but feel of an insanely entertaining piece.
In jumpstarting the increasingly crazy ride that is "Wild Tales," the pre-credits opener ("Pasternak") is uncomfortably amusing and full of hate. On a flight, a model begins conversing with a music critic, only to realize he and everyone else on the plane knows her ex-boyfriend, Pasternak. Coincidence? Maybe not, but what happens next shouldn't be revealed here. Next up is "The Rats," in which a man stops at a cafe to eat late one evening. Moza (Julieta Zylberberg), the waitress, recognizes the customer; he forced her family out of their home and her father to commit suicide. She would rather be passive-aggressive, while the ex-con cook (Rita Cortese) would have no problem poisoning the condescending jerk's fries and eggs dish. The macabre outcome is more anticlimactic than most but watching the escalation unfold keeps the viewer on his or her toes.
"The Strongest," the third tale, has a relentless "Duel"-like nastiness about it: impatient motorist Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia) crosses paths with a beyond-belligerent redneck (Walter Donado), learning the hard way about the consequences of road rage. It is at once shocking and funny in its savagery, enthralling, and completely dipped in irony. The fourth story, "Little Bomb," deals with Simon (Ricardo Darin), a demolitions engineer, having his car towed in an unpainted spot when picking up his daughter's birthday cake. He can't catch a break, especially with his hair-trigger temper at parking authority window, and his life just devolves from there. This one is most relatable and melancholy, as we side with Simon's frustration, before the cathartic punchline and then an oddly hopeful resolution.
The fifth, "The Proposal," is the darkest and least humorous by far, as wealthy businessman Mauricio's (Oscar Martinez) son runs over and kills a pregnant woman with his car (which happens off-screen) in a hit-and-run. The family is in ruins, so Mauricio and his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) ask a favor from their poor gardener/housekeeper of fifteen years, until negotiations all around is the final option. It's a cleverly spun turn of events, and while what ends up happening is a real shame, the impact of the sucker-punch end hits one like a hammer. Last but certainly not least, "Until Death Do Us Part" is a show-stopper, a tragic, deliriously entertaining whirlwind of every emotion possible that lives up to "Wild Tales'" name. Beginning with the joy of the wedding reception, cued to Sia and David Guetta's "Titanium," this 20-odd-minute segment spectacularly goes off the rails in the best of ways. When bride Romina (Erica Riva, in a fearlessly funny, to-the-hilt turn) discovers her husband Ariel (Diego Gentile) was cheating on her with one of the wedding guests, she turns into a scorned bridezilla who shows him not to mess with her and finds no reason to cut the party short.
Seeing Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almadóvar (2011's "The Skin I Live In") as a producer on "Wild Tales" should be a tip-off for what one should expect. Madness ensues and revenge is exacted, but all is delivered in surprising (and surprisingly human) fashion with deft storytelling and forceful filmmaking skill. Writer-director-editor Damián Szifrón and fellow editor Pablo Barbieri Carrera deserve a round of applause for the whole of their efforts, considering stories in the short form live or die on sustaining enough momentum and energy. All six yarns are self-contained, but are thematically connected by escalating rage and retribution, provoking questions about what makes people tick when they're at their worst. With so many killer punchlines to choose from, "Wild Tales" turns discomfort, desperation and the ugly corners of humanity into a delightfully nutty, unwholesome, take-no-prisoners platter.
Grade: B +