Wild Tales , comedy-drama-thriller, rated R, in Spanish with subtitles, Regal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles
Wild Tales, one of the nominees in this year’s foreign-language category at the Oscars, is an anthology movie that packs together six stories connected by a common theme: revenge. Such commentators as Dorothy Parker, Don Corleone, and the writer of an old Klingon proverb agree that revenge is a dish best served cold, but Argentine writer-director Damián Szifron ladles his portions out at temperatures ranging from still frozen to a raging boil.
Szifron’s stories have the quirky, twisted sensibility of some of Roald Dahl’s most memorable work. You’ll be in the right ballpark if you think of Dahl’s classic short story “Lamb to the Slaughter” (adapted as a famous
Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode with Barbara Bel Geddes), about a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then roasts and serves the evidence to police investigators. But Dahl is a model of civility compared with Szifron.
Szifron starts out with a wild tale full of coincidence (but in an airplane setting over which current events will cast a more somber shadow than perhaps was intended). The stories that follow grow increasingly darker in mood, until sometimes it’s hard to see the comedy through the blacking. Some of this material is not for the faint of heart. From road rage to rat poison, from calculated systemic judicial corruption to a knock-down, drag-out melee at a wedding celebration, Szifron looks at what makes us tick and what makes us explode. Explosion is the looming presence behind the growing frustration of a man doing battle with a mindless bureaucratic system when his car is towed. The complicating element is that the man is a demolitions expert.
Some of the episodes make their point with economy and a gleeful, almost surgical precision. Others drag on, tumbling the material like clothes in a dryer set to a time exceeding what is required. The same actors turn up in different episodes, sometimes barely recognizable in their varied characters. The production quality is smooth and stylish, and the performances are first-rate.
Cinematic revenge, served cold or hot, is always satisfying, and Szifron takes us through a wild assortment of flavors and seasonings, method and madness, culminating in an over-the-top exercise in the pleasures of going too far and still coming out on the other side.
Bloody whack: Erica Rivas and Diego Gentile