It’s a good thing Wild Tales was released in summer 2014 instead of today. If it was, there’d probably be an uproar over how the first of its six shorts eerily resembles the circumstances of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash on March 24. In that short, the passengers of a flight out of Buenos Aires spontaneously discover that they all know a man named Gabriel Pasternak. Without getting too much into the details, let’s just say Pasternak took a page from the book of Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz in declaring “one day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.”
That declaration, drolly enough, is one of the main themes underlying Wild Tales, which is an anthology of six standalone shorts characterized by violence and revenge. From one perspective the movie is an exploration of human nature and raw impulse — it shows what happens when people actually act on the dark fantasies that everyone has in their heads. In many ways, it resembles the 2011 dark comedy God Bless America, in which a middle-aged man and a teenage girl journey cross-country to kill those who make the world a more annoying place–people who talk on their cell phones during movies, the Westboro Baptist Church, reality TV stars, and so on. Like God Bless America, Wild Tales is fantastically satisfying and entertaining to watch.
The most gratifying of the movie’s six shorts is probably “Bombita”, which stars Ricardo Darín as a demolitions engineer named Simón Fischer. When Fischer misses his daughter’s birthday (an incident which also causes his wife to leave him) due to the unjust actions of a towing company, he decides he’s had enough. At the DMV, he blows up and smashes a window with a fire extinguisher, acting out onscreen what I’m sure many of us have probably thought about doing at some point while mired in our own bureaucratic nightmares. But hey — Fischer’s a demolitions engineer–so believe me, that’s just the beginning.
Dramatically, “La propuesta” (“The proposal”) takes first place. When a teenager from a rich family runs over a pregnant lady with a BMW, corruption and coverups spring into action. The boy’s father and the family attorney cook up a convenient cover story with the groundskeeper, but when everyone starts asking for more than they deserve, tension flies into the already volatile emotional mix. This particular short, like almost all of its five other companions, is a suspenseful roller coaster ride that turns through moments of calm and then twists back into “oh dear, that just happened.”
Since it has six different shorts, Wild Tales operates at a rapid pace. Some shorts, like the one about Pasternak, run in the single digit minutes. Within those constraints there’s limited room for character development, but the film manages to remember that its shorts are still shorts and drops enough clues and flashes for us to start identifying with or rooting for/against its stars — this is a huge plus. Like some of its characters, Wild Tales is quick, deadly, and efficient; it’s several sharp jabs, not a single dull punch.
Being brutally efficient probably cost Wild Tales the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, which it was shortlisted for. There’s no time to waste on the languid beauty of something like Ida, for life’s annoyances wait for no man. Despite that, each wild tale still has the tip-top visual composition and quality of any award-winning piece; the last short “Until death do us part” has some particularly beautiful nighttime shots overlooking the Buenos Aires cityscape. However, the best way to describe Wild Tales is as a guilty pleasure, with emphases on both “guilty” and “pleasure”. We may not be able to bring our darkest impulsive desires into reality, but we can at least see them play out on screen.
Wild Tales (Spanish: Relatos Salvajes)–Argentina. First released May 2014. Running time 2hr 2 mins. Starring Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, and Darío Grandinetti.