Wild Tales

Review © Jane Freebury

Lions, cheetahs, wildebeest and birds-of-prey grace the opening credits of this giddily extravagant Argentinean anthology of tales of revenge. By film’s close, well may we wonder the lengths to which men and women could go to avenge injured pride, social injustice and corruption. If it’s true that animals can hold grudges too, we are surely the only species to make it an art form.

This collection of very dark comedies, six in all, takes retaliation to its logical/illogical conclusion. There are no half measures.

First off, passengers on a place discover that they are each connected, not in a good way, to the person who is alone in the cockpit. The elementary teacher who’d thought he had issues, the former girlfriend, and the music critic who gave his work a lousy review. This art-mirrors-life tale is more than a little disturbing, though it predates this year’s Lufthansa tragedy.

Without a moment to draw breath, the second tale opens in a seedy, isolated diner presided over by a chef with more than a few grudges to spare. The young waitress recognises a customer as the man who drove her father to suicide, evidence enough for the chef who opines that although everyone wants wrong-doers to get what they deserve, no one is willing to lift a finger. The eggs on fries receive a dusting of rat poison, but then the man’s son arrives to share his meal.

Road rage gets a serve. A duel on a remote road between two macho males, one behind the wheel of a sleek sporty number, the other in a daggy, slow pick-up. The sports inevitably speeds past, but not before an angry verbal exchange. ‘Redneck’ vs ‘pussy’ battle it out, as tit-for-tat turns homicidal. It’s probably the most telling example of why naked revenge is self-defeating. ‘Of Revenge’ by Francis Bacon, anyone?

Two very bleak tales show how a corrupt system makes social justice impossible. The car of a mild-mannered demotions engineer is towed away from an unmarked zone. Car retrieved, he is caught in gridlock that ensures he is completely out of favour when he eventually arrives home for his daughter’s birthday. His attempts to seek redress against an inefficient bureaucracy fail miserably, and things descend from bad to worse, until payback. And there’s the teenager who takes the family Beemer for a spin. He arrives home with a damaged vehicle and admits to a hit-and-run that has taken the life of a pregnant woman. His family is however rich and influential enough to broker a deal.

Just when you’re reeling from the wild recklessness of it all — revenge in the first degree — the last tale opens on a wedding reception in a grand city hotel. The bride realises her new husband has cheated on her with a colleague from work. In no mood for appeasement she utterly loses it before she rallies and unleashes the full armoury. The groom realises why he’s married her in a comic, poignant and lusty conclusion.

Despite the lack of continuity in all but theme, these wonderfully extravagant tales of ‘wild justice’ segue with total fluidity. The fine cinematography and editing, the terrific performances and excellent score by Gustavo Santaolalla are all of a piece. It says a lot for the skills of the writer-director Damián Szifron. His name appears in the opening credits next to the fox.

4 Stars