Wild Tales

Note: this is our second in a series of ‘stragglers’, reviews for films that we saw in Cannes, but didn’t find time to write about until now. We hope to bring you some more of these in the near future.

Damián Szifrón was one of the few non-household name directors in competition this year, and on top of that he also made the only outright comedy of the pack (although there was plenty to laugh at in David Cronenberg’s acidic Maps To The Stars). It didn’t net him any awards at the end of the festival, but it did gain him recognition and a decent amount of praise for this collection of six dark and indeed wild tales about how little things in life can escalate rapidly until they are out of our control. Or maybe because we lose control, things start escalating. In any case, inevitably everything tumbles into mayhem.

Szifrón assembled a veritable who’s who of Argentinian acting talent, the most recognizable probably Ricardo Darín of El Secreto De Sus Ojos fame, to populate his tales that circle around themes of revenge, frustration, and catharsis. The one that seems out of place in this set is probably the fifth, which centres around a rich industrialist trying to cover up a lethal accident caused by his son. The other stories inevitably start with an element of frustration or irritation on the part of the central character, caused by a small event of which one could think, “Just let it slide.” These characters don’t, however, which sets them on a path of ever-escalating conflict, in which they often seem to delight in losing control of the situation. Sometimes this ends well, sometimes it doesn’t, but along the way there is a lot of dark humour to delight the audience, which was very receptive. Loud cheers and applause during a screening are always a good sign, and this got plenty, which suggests this film could be a small hit in art-house theatres (it has already been sold to quite a number of territories).

The stories get progressively longer, the first in fact is no more than an opening scene, and the scope gets more epic with each story. What links the airline pilot (who we never see), the disgruntled waitress, the annoyed driver, the frustrated demolition expert, and the betrayed bride is the behaviour of others that pushes them past the breaking point in recognizable situations. How often have we been cut off by some road warrior, or pissed off by stifling bureaucracy? Sometimes we explode, but luckily things don’t get as completely out of hand as they do in Wild Tales (at least I hope they don’t in your case).

Because Szifrón gleefully lets things get wildly over the top, as his characters go into their darkest corners. Violence, often sudden, is used to hilarious and hysterical effect. The film is co-produced by Pedro Almodóvar’s El Deseo production company, and lovers of his sense of humour should feel right at home in the various worlds of Wild Tales, most notably that of the final story centred around a bride who finds out on her wedding day that her groom cheated on her. Erica Rivas’ histrionics in the central role in this would fit into any Almodóvar film that isn’t too much on the serious side. A woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown indeed, and a brilliant comedic performance by Rivas. Elsewhere, Leonardo Sbaraglia and Oscar Martínez are standouts in a cast that delivers on every beat. But the real star of the show is Szifrón, who masterfully paces the film (the expanding length and scope of the stories working well here) and knows very well how to use visual and musical cues to elicit exactly the reaction he wants from his audience. Wild Tales is an often laugh-out-loud crowd pleaser that was probably the most energetic entry in competition, and a perfect example that comedy has its place in what is often seen as a somewhat cerebral auteur festival.