Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wild Tales Movie Review (Relatos salvajes)

Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales is a package film comprised of six short films united by the common theme of human nature’s propensity to resort to animal instincts of violence and moral turpitude at the slightest hint of transgression. The original Spanish title of this Argentine film (which was nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar this year) is Relatos salvajes which is more aptly translated as “Savage Tales.” These six stories are not just wild, as in a little crazy and beyond the pale. They are savage and occasionally brutal in the way wild animals have no regard for the violence they inflict on each other.

Szifrón’s targets are a combination of both the rampant corruption that infects Argentine society up to its highest levels and the universal immorality that occurs every day in human society. His stories focus on regular everyday Argentines as well as the rich and powerful, all of whom behave miserably in the face of rudeness, mild aggression, or even merely perceived wrongs.

The first story, presented pre-credits, hysterically sets a tone that tells us it’s okay to laugh at the violence and aggression we witness over the film’s two hour running time. On a commercial flight, a music critic and a young woman discover, apparently coincidentally, that they were once acquainted with the same man. As they talk, a woman in front of them reveals that she too knows the man in question. Slowly they discover that everyone on the flight was his teacher, his therapist, his girlfriend, and everyone else who wronged him in some way. The absurdity generates humor, which abruptly switches to the gallows type when they discover what’s happening. After the German Wings flight that was brought down by one of its pilots, this scene takes on a different, more tragic undertone, an unfortunate result of the confluence of fiction and real life.

With the empowerment to laugh at these horrific and often tragic stories, we can’t help but laugh as a woman working in a greasy spoon diner puts rat poison in the food of its only patron that night, a Mafioso whose actions years earlier caused tragedy and hardship for his waitress and her family. There’s also humor to be found in a violent roadside confrontation between two men who don’t know when to lay off. Then Ricardo Darín stars as an engineer who decides to single-handedly take on the city’s corruption after his car is towed from a space that wasn’t marked as restricted. His obstinacy and insistence on restitution result in displays of violent aggression followed by the loss of his job and family. This is one of only a couple of stories that has an ironically triumphant final note.

In all the stories, the trough-line is characters who are given multiple opportunities to do the right thing, take the high road, or simply allow injustice to occur. But every time, these people turn their fight or flight adrenaline rush to negative escalating actions. It’s like watching the worst train wrecks. You don’t want to witness carnage, but you can’t turn away because you just have to see what these people are truly capable of. We, the audience, have that reflected back on us in the final story, which has all the wedding guests stick around watching from the sidelines as the bride and groom turn the affair into a nightmare of heightened emotions, threats, and broken glass. Those guests are us. They know they should leave, but they’re compelled to stay. We all are complicit, Szifrón is saying, in the moral transgressions of the world.

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