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Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes) is the very definition of a crowd-pleaser. Featuring five different stories of revenge, plots gone awry, and even love, Argentinian director Damián Szifrón had the audience breaking into applause several times throughout his anthology film at a recent Sundance screening. The lone thread connecting the five Spanish-language tales together is in how, you guessed it, wild they are, with stories ranging from outrageous in circumstance to over-the-top with action (and in the cases of some entries, both). It’s a breezy two hours full of surprises, humor both good-hearted and mean-spirited, a healthy dose of violence, and one hell of performance from actress Érica Rivas.
This is not your traditional anthology film showcasing a number of talented writers and directors who then combine their efforts. Including a pre-credits short story that involves a number of airplane passengers who share something between them (“Pasternak”), every story was written and directed by Szifrón. It’s quite an achievement in itself that the natural inclination would be to assume there were multiple cooks in the kitchen, due to the variety of the stories that arrive every 25 minutes or so. However the only one stirring the pot is Szifrón:
“Las Ratas” (“The Rats”): A young waitress recognizes a man who has stopped in to eat at the deserted diner in which she works. What follows is a story of recognition and revenge, highlighted by hesitation from the waitress and cold whispers from the cook (Rita Cortese). Cortese is the standout in what is the shortest of the five tales, her comedic asides (wondering aloud if expired rat poison is better or worse for a potential victim) and sly suggestions that the waitress take revenge on her patron dominates the short with laughs.
“El más fuerte” (“The Strongest”): What starts off resembling a Spanish-version of the Matthew McConaughey car commercials (down to direction and easy-listening music) soon turns into a more personal take on Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Road rage leads to a fight between an obnoxious yuppie and a blue-collar bully that has to be seen to be believed, from before the former gains courage all the way to its hilarious final line. The best of the short films … until Rivas shows up in the final entry. I promise I’ll get to her soon enough.
“Bombita” (“Little bomb”): There is some strange commentary here that doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the stories. An engineer/explosives expert is trying to get home in time for his daughter’s birthday party but has to contend with his car being towed away. After a moment of violent rage, he loses his job and, as a result, his family. He plots his revenge, and while I won’t spoil it here, you can probably guess what transpires. Szifrón attempts to make a statement about what happens when the government ignores the public for too long, but it’s a bit too on the nose.
“La Propuesta” (“The proposal”): After the son of a wealthy man is involved in a hit-and-run, strategies are formed, bribes are made, and a reminder that greed can undo any foolproof plan is told in what is the most quiet of the entries. There is more sadness to be found in “The Propuesta” than there is in earlier entries because we’re shown the lengths we could be willing to go to for family, but it doesn’t lose sight that it’s part of a comedy anthology. The ending, while telegraphed earlier on, remains effective.
“Hasta que la muerte nos separe” (“Until death do us part”): This is the icing on the cake, which makes sense because of how cake plays a part in its story. We meet a bride and groom at the very start of their wedding reception, and before the party ends, truths will be revealed, affairs will take place, women will be thrown into mirrors, and love may or may not prevail. It’s an out-of-control tale that is perfectly placed at the tail end of Wild Tales because no other entry could have possibly followed it. Rivas gives one of the funniest performances of the past year, foreign or otherwise, as the put-upon newlywed. She runs through every emotion in the book, but despite her out-of-control behavior, she somehow comes across believable when the shit hits the fan (and ultimately, when the cake hits the dance floor).
Co-produced by famous Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Szifrón’s anthology is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award, and while it isn’t the best of those films (see: Ida and Leviathon), Wild Tales deserves to be in their company. Not every tale hits as hard as the one before it, but with a solid final entry and enough humor to keep even the most uninterested interested, Wild Tales is as advertised and much more.
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