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‘Wild Tales’: Takes you on a wild ride

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media

Film Critic

The Argentine-Spanish collaboration, “Wild Tales” is a black comedy. It consists of six free-standing vignettes, each written and directed by Damián Szifron. The theme of revenge, tinged with violence, pervades all of the components.

A pre-credits segment, “Pasternak,” takes place aboard an airplane.  Two passengers, a model, Isabel (Maria Marull), and a music critic, Salgado (Dario Grandinetti), are seated across the aisle from one another. They strike up a casual conversation and learn that they have a shared connection. Isabel’s former boyfriend is a man named Gabriel Pasternak. Their relationship had ended on an acrimonious note. Salgado recalls that he had sat once on a music school’s admissions panel. In that capacity, he had screened Pasternak’s admission application. Salgado reveals that he issued a scathing assessment of Pasternak’s composition. It had destroyed Pasternak’s aspirations to become a professional musician. Other passengers overhear the conversation and chime in that they also knew Pasternak in some unfavorable context. How is it possible that every passenger has Pasternak in his past? A concluding shot announces the cleverness and dexterity of the filmmaker.

After the credits, the film moves to a roadside diner, where “Rats” is set. A meek, mild-mannered waitress (Julietta Zyklerberg) recognizes a customer, Cuenca (César Bordón). He arrives in the diner and immediately starts berating her. Cuenca is a Mafioso thug, who had hectored the waitress’ father to a premature death. Afterwards, Cuenca sexually harassed the waitress’ mother. When the waitress tells the cook (Ritz Cortese), the latter proposes a simple solution—rat poison in the meal that Cuenca has just ordered.

In the third tale, “The Strongest,” involves the mother of all road rage incidents. Two cars share an otherwise deserted road. Mario (Walter Donado) is driving a broken down vehicle. His attire and the materials on the roof of his vehicle suggest that he is some sort of contractor. Behind him is Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a well-dressed businessman in a deluxe, late model car. Diego becomes frustrated by the fact that Mario is driving at a leisurely pace. Diego yells a gratuitous insult at Mario and displays an offensive gesture as he veers around him. Further down the road, Diego has a flat tire. He has to pull over. Who should arrive? None other than Mario! Of course, this leads to an escalating cycle of violent reprisals. These are expertly choreographed by Szifron.

Next up is ‘Bombs,” which involves a demolitions expert, Simón Fisher (Ricardo Darin). We witness his expertise as he blows up a large building complex. He heads to a pastry shop to purchase a cake for his daughter’s birthday party. When he exits the store, he discovers that his car has been towed, even though there was no indication that he was in a no parking zone. Is a demolitions engineer really someone that you want to antagonize?

The penultimate story, “The Proposition,” involves the aftermath of a hit and run accident. A wealthy man, Mauricio Pereyra Hamilton (Oscar Martinez), discovers that his drunken son had struck a pregnant woman, then sped away from the scene. The victim has died. How can Mauricio keep his son out of jail? Can his long term gardener, Casero (Germán de Silva) be financially induced to take the blame for the accident? Can his attorney (Osmar Núñez) bribe the prosecutor (Diego Velázquez) to participate in the cover-up?

In the conclusion, “Till Death Do Us Part,” takes place at a wedding reception. However, it’s hardly a felicitous affair. The bride, Romina (Erica Rivas), discovers that the groom, Ariel (Diego Gentile) has been carrying on an affair with another woman. Romina is particularly outraged that Ariel has invited the strumpet to the wedding reception.  To even the score, Romina has a tryst with a kitchen worker. She then announces her husband’s infidelities to those in attendance. The tensions escalate into a cascade of physical assaults and counter-assaults.

Anthologies of shorts are often problematic. They are customarily a compilation of the works of different filmmakers and are of varying levels of quality and reflect different sensibilities. Here, all six of the components are from the same auteur, Damián Szifron. He has crafted six decidedly different story lines, populated by distinctively dissimilar characters. However, each of the segments shares the pervasive theme of violent revenge, excellent acting by the ensemble cast, and the same exceptional production values. The cinematography by Javier Julia and the score by Gustavo Santaolalla are particularly laudable.

If you didn’t know otherwise, you might easily mistake this for a film made by Pedro Almodovar. “Wild Tales” manifests the same mordant wit and command of stylistic elements as the master filmmaker. In fact, Almodovar and his brother are the co-producers of “Wild Tales.” Presumably, this reflects their imprimatur on the film.

“Wild Tales” has been showered with accolades at various international film festivals. It was chosen to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The work was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

In his native Argentina, Szifron is well-known for an extensive filmmography. He has won additional fame for his work on the television series, “The Pretenders.” However, American audiences have remained largely oblivious to his talents. This film should change all that.

A work of consummate artistry, “Wild Tales” will take you on a wild and eminently entertaining ride.

**** R (for violence, language, and brief sexuality) 122 minutes (In Spanish with English subtitles)

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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