With a title like Wild Tales, it better have some wild tales to tell, right?”
The opening of Damián Szifrón’s assembly of skits sets the anarchic tone of what’s to come. This epilogue, entitled ‘Pasternak’, sees a number of passengers board an aeroplane. Nothing out of the ordinary; it’s a sunny day for a pleasant flight. The passengers look comfortable, even pleased with themselves. Then, the normal innocuous conversations begin. However, it soon turns out that this flight is about something more than either business or pleasure.This is a journey of revenge. As initial curiosity builds to hysteria, Wild Tales‘ reaches its optimum cruising speed. This uproarious farce is a history of pettiness taken to extremes. It’s odd, occasionally outlandish, and often (but not always) gut-bustingly funny.
It’s is a breakthrough film for Szifrón, but whilst Wild Tales has plenty to offer on its own terms, this breakthrough has to be due in no small part to the film’s producer, Pedro Almódovar. This project has much in common with the oeuvre of the great Spanish auteur, not least its tongue-in-cheek tone (Incidentally, the opening tale of air rage gets more laughs in ten minutes than Almodóvar’s flight of fancy I’m So Excited managed in ninety). For the most part, Wild Tales is acutely self-aware, refusing to take itself too seriously. The opening credits are backgrounded by sights of natural predators taking down their prey. To paraphrase one of cinema’s great examples of prey-turned-predator, you don’t see them screwing each other over for a percentage. Such considerations don’t even enter into the minds of the numerous aggressors in Wild Tales; this is all about naked revenge, excessive in both scope and violence.
Wild Tales seems to run on the pretense that it’s simply saying what we’re all thinking. Who doesn’t want revenge? Szifrón’s conceit is to allow his characters the revenge they want, albeit with a few crucial caveats. For example, the second story (entitled ‘The Rats’) involves a waitress in a diner (Julieta Zylberberg) being gifted the chance of vengeance against a dining usurer (César Bordón) who ruined her family. Yet, despite the enthusiasm of the cook (Rita Cortese) to help, the waitress’s conscience proves difficult to overcome. The weight of resistance seems inversely proportional to the pettiness of the revenge being sought. From that moral matter, we move to ‘The Strongest’, in which two drivers seek to one-up each other. Needless to say, it can’t be put to rest simply by one driving the other off the road. These two stories, one after another, see Wild Tales at their messy and gutsy best. They’re dark and disgustingly funny.
Of course, when the bar is set so high, can anyone really hope to maintain a high standard over two hours. There’s the first issue; the film’s too long. Why have six Wild Tales when four would do? Indeed, only four of the film’s segments truly satisfy. Two out of three ain’t bad, but the film’s racy energy is severely hampered in the second half. Story number four, ‘Little bomb’ sees Ricardo Darin’s demolitions expert exact his vengeance after being clamped and towed one time too many. It’s another dark fantasy, but the gag rate is neither as breathless nor as rebelliously tasteless as the previous installments. The devil is in the detail, as our protagonist plots to hit the clamping company with an elaborate scheme. It’s mildly amusing, but a definite step down in quality. Worse still is ‘The proposal’, which involves a cover-up after the son of a wealthy family finds himself behind the wheel in a hit-and-run. A millionaire and his lawyers plan to have his gardener take the blame in exchange for a pay-off. As negotiations get more complex, however, the story forgets to tickle the funny bone. At this point, Wild Tales grinds to a halt. Such a pity; it was all going so well.
The final section, ‘’Til Death Do Us Part’ gets some of the film’s mojo back, as a wedding party is tested by accusations of prior infidelities. It plays like Gone Girl’s bratty little cousin, and reminds us of the scatological tone that Szifrón was aiming for. He oversteps the mark somewhat, but Wild Tales is undeniably funny when it wants to be. It’s two-thirds of the year’s funniest film, and given the quality of most comedies these days, that might be enough.