Wild Tales (2014): Szifron’s Outrageously Funny Comedy

Wild Tales, the compendium of wildly outrageous stories by Argentinean filmmaker Damian Szifron, lives up to its title in delivering a series of unrelated tales, loosely unified by the motif of revenge.

Rest assure that the director delivers a funny package, based on the most primitive notion of vengeance, or as one character says “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

Produced by the Almodovar brothers (Agustin and Pedro), “Wild Tales” provides the kind of dark humor and wicked pleasure that we have come to expect from Pedro, though Szifron is not an imitator of the Spaniard maestro in narrative strategy or visual style.

As is the case of most anthologies, “Wild Tales” is uneven, and some segments are more biting, outrageous, brutal, and funnier than others. It’s always risky for a film critic to make recommendations, but cutting the film by 15 to 20 minutes or so might help its commercial prospects with more mainstream audiences.

With the right handling and marketing (perhaps help from Almodovar himself as presenter or introducer), Sony Classics should do extremely well with this rude and crud comedy. As of today, “Wild Tales” is the only perverse and subversive comedy—or comedy at all, for that matter—out of the dozen films that I have seen.

There was not much in Szifron’s previous work (the cop caper “On Probation”) to suggest that he’s capable of delivering such a widely accessible movie, composed of various genres and formats, some of which universal (the road rage incident, the last wedding episode), which means they should connect with young and middle-aged viewers in both Latin and no-Latin markets.

One of the best (and shortest) segments occurs before the opening credits roll down, setting the tone for the entire picture. In the hilarious “Pasternak,” which deals with one of Almodovar’s most recurrent motifs—coincidental and fateful encounters in the least likely places—a young beautiful model named Isabel (Maria Marull) boards a plane for a business trip. Salgado (Dario Grandinetti), a suave gentleman (a music critic) seated across the aisle from her, begins a conversation, perhaps hoping that it might lead to something else. Within a minute, they discover they’re not the only people onboard with a connection to a certain Gabriel Pasternak. Soon the all members of the business class claims to be acquainted with Pasternak, as his teacher, former classmate, and so on.

wild_tales_2“The Rats,” which follows, centers on a waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) in a small roadhouse diner, who discovers that her only customer (Cesar Bordon) is the loan shark who drove her father to suicide. When the ex-con cook (Rita Cortese) hears how dreadful the guy is, she encourages the uncertain waitress to take revenge.

In “Road to Hell” will touch a special chord with American drivers due to the increase of raod rage incidents on our freeways and highways. The protagonist, Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), an arrogant businessman driving his new and shiny Audi, makes the fatal (literally) mistake and gives the finger to a working-class driver (Walter Donado) in an old Peugot. A flat tire of the Audi leads to a nasty personal encounter between the suave arrogant urbanite and the redneck who assume the role of tormentor.

Szifron shows narrative and technical skills in orchestrating various nasty set-ups, based on absurd situations that lead to even more absurd conduct, in which otherwise well-behaved bourgeois characters lose their temper—in public, of course—and let their steam off.

In a future, longer article, I will describe all the episodes, but for now suffice is to say that two episodes overextend their welcome and whose running time could be cut down by 10 minutes each: “The Bill” (the least funny segment), and “Till Death Do Us Part.”

Even so, end result is a wildly inventive comedy of the absurd, whose bizarre and lurid elements offer the kind of hearty laughter and wild entertainment seldom experienced in film festivals such as Cannes.