The morning of the Oscars, I decided that I needed to explore the foreign language category a little bit more, having already seen likely (and eventual) winner Ida from Poland and possible upset, Russia’s Leviathan.
Argentinian nominee Wild Tales caught my eye and came highly recommended from several friends, so I headed to the theater. The following two hours left me overjoyed, disgusted, sad, and honestly kind of hopeless…in the best way.
A series of six vignettes exploring the extremes in human behavior—jealousy, unceasing bureaucratic frustration, greed, intense vitriol, and vengeful ideation among them—Wild Tales is the darkest of black comedies, a feel-bad-feel-good extravaganza brimming over with plot twists and all-too-real absurdist characters.
The film opens and closes with the two most purely comedic shorts, one involving a plane full of passengers who all happen to have one acquaintance—a rather unsavory one at that—in common, the other an extended look at a wedding reception undone by jealousy and mistrust. In them, the acid humor and bleak outlook of writer-director Damián Szifron is established and summed up. He clearly has little faith in the human race to respect one another, let alone interact in an effective manner.
But he also suggests that that is the very reason we are able to connect; who better to spend our days with than those who are just as awful and despicable as we are? It is difficult to find fault with almost any character in Wild Tales because all of them are horrible people, or at least people in need of a serious reality check.
The two shorts that come closest to achieving a full cinematic arc also give us our most sympathetic characters.
In the first, a man attempting to bring a cake home for his daughter’s birthday has his car towed and pays exorbitant fines only to arrive late for the party; his wife leaves him, he is fired from his job, and he loses custody of his daughter, leading him to take amusing revenge (which I will not describe here) on the bureaucratic institutions which have caused him such harm. He is at once wholly understandable and incredibly frustrating, embodying that guy at the front of the line harassing the public worker for doing their job—all of us have our moments, but for him, every opportunity to shame a government employee is an opportunity taken.
The other longer-form piece involves an accident in which a privileged teenager runs his car into a pregnant woman and flees the scene. His wealthy family decides it would be better to pay off their long-time gardener to take the fall—with enough money to support his wife and children for life—rather than let their tender son spend several years in prison. The gardener submits almost without question, only thinking to demand more when the lawyers negotiating the deal exhibit their greed. To say it doesn’t end well for anyone would be an understatement.
See what I mean? No faith in humanity. Throw into the mix an increasingly absurd and violent road side interaction between a “redneck” and a “rich jerk” and a cook’s murder plot against an asshole diner customer and you’ve got Wild Tales, a film which, for all its seeming categorization and reduction, actually grows to encompass a huge swath of the “kinds” of people you might know.
Perhaps Szifron is encouraging those who feel disgusted to look around at our friends and family and recognize that not only is nobody perfect, but everybody—through their actions and interactions—impacts everyone else…and pays the consequences.
Bleak? Sure. But Wild Tales‘ extremes will have you rolling in the aisle and questioning the way you treat others. A movie and therapy in one—what could be better?
Now, if only the Academy had been brave enough to reward this daring and strange film…
Check out the trailer for Wild Tales below, and if it happens to be playing in your town make sure to see it on the big screen: