Barely anything about Wild Tales makes sense. It’s an anthology film composed of six shocking shorts written by director Damián Szifrón, which means it’s automatically less accessible than the average feature film (fun fact: no anthology film has ever grossed over $30m internationally; V/H/S is the only one from this decade to make more than $100k). Yet somehow, it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, received a ten-minute standing ovation at Cannes, and has since become the most watched film ever in its native Argentina. Additionally, it’s a twisted thrill ride, featuring the type of bizarre cruelty and violence that rarely appears in movies as popular as this.
All of this speaks to the sheer entertainment factor of Wild Tales which, although it falls prey to the typical anthology movie pitfall (that is, having to restart its momentum every twenty minutes or so), manages to remain an absolute blast as it plows through stories in which put-upon characters are finally pushed beyond their personal limits. There are hundreds of movies like this, even ones that are similar in structure – see Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin – but Wild Tales makes itself seem vital by aiming for the jugular with its opening short “Pasternak”, a story that tracks a plane full of doomed characters as they realise they’re the victims of a revenge mission. Each plot point is revealed with storytelling finesse, revelling in humour and/or shock value. And it’s all preposterous, but that’s its other main pleasure: ludicrous stories that take leave of civil practices and explore a world where barbarism is rooted in social injustice.
With that said, it’s worth noting that the inspiration for Wild Tales is the real world, wherein order maintained by capitalism is, as Fight Club and American Psycho will tell you, merely a veil for mankind’s animalistic tendencies. As such, sections “The Rat” and “The Proposal” deal in morals and ethics, with the latter zoning right in on the ability of wealth to shift blame and alter the aftermath of violence, and the course of reaction – in this case, that of the husband of a pregnant hit-and-run victim – towards different conclusions.
In this, “The Proposal”, as the penultimate episode, is almost a prequel to the previous three shorts (“The Rat”, “The Strongest” and “Little Bomb”) as it focuses upon the catalysts of social injustice. Excluding the two book-ending shorts, each section revolves around a clash between rich and poor, with the rich sometimes existing as some ghostly shogun governing the financial oppression of those not lucky enough to be in the club. This is certainly the case with “Little Bomb”, where a father’s life is steadily ruined by the repeated, arbitrary towing of his car; attempting to complain directly to whoever is responsible, all he meets is deference and deaf ears, with clerks telling him he must pay off his hefty and unfairly issued fines before making any further enquiries.
This is perhaps the most frustrating short, insofar as the viewer becomes frustrated in empathy with the father’s situation. All of Wild Tales is emotionally involving in some way, apart from “The Strongest”, a war between two motorists who, by complete chance, end up brawling in ways that are inventive (seatbelt hanging) and bewildering (one guy shits on another guy’s windscreen). Incredulity is the only outcome of this episode, and until its bizarre conclusion, it’s merely a satirical homage to Duel, Mad Max and other road war movies, thus being the weakest section of the entire anthology (although it does have some gorgeous cinematography).
Wild Tales is a very good collection of shorts that are sometimes merely good, but it feels way better than the sum of its parts because of the great taste the final short leaves in your mouth. “Until Death Do Us Part” is by far the least physically violent short in the whole anthology (looking past the girl who gets thrown through a mirror), but it’s the most emotionally violent, and it’s the one part in which violence seems to exist within every inch of the frame. Centred around a wedding (in case the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway), this episode appears right at the end of a series of twisted and increasingly depressing stories, creating the atmosphere of a death dance by beginning with a hyperactive celebration. Secrets pour out between the wedded pair, and in a flurry of booze and heightened emotion, all hell breaks loose. And while I won’t spoil it any further, it ends on one last curveball with a flourish that is as redeeming as it is apocalyptic. Wild Tales is worth seeing for its batshit sensibilities alone, but the final short makes it essential viewing for anyone with a taste for dark humour and ruthless storytelling.