Six stories involving extreme reactions to stress are given the apt title of Wild Tales, a film from Argentina, written and directed by Damian Szifron. At least that seems to be the common theme of the movie—anger, revenge, and dishonesty also thread their way through these stories. Szifron seems to enjoy putting his characters through the wringer and exposing the worst aspects of human nature, but the film manages to avoid mere cynicism while coming to terms, in some tortured fashion, with our human predicament.
In the first story, which comes before the credits, a fashion model on an airplane discovers that a passenger who is flirting with her just happens to be the music critic who destroyed the hopes of her composer ex-boyfriend. The tale spirals into a very funny take on the tendency to blame everyone else for our problems. Most of the following tales also sport a kind of gallows humor. A waitress in an out-of-the-way little town recognizes a customer as the man who destroyed her family. Should she put rat poison in his food? Then, in one of my favorite segments, which takes place on a country highway, an arrogant young man in an Audi gives the finger to a guy in a slow-moving truck as he passes him, calling him a redneck into the bargain. But wouldn’t you know it—the Audi blows a tire a few miles later, and as the young man tries to change it, here comes the redneck in the truck, who proceeds to exact revenge in an unhinged, and you’ve been warned, a disgusting manner. Instead of just letting it be, however, the young man raises the stakes, and the cycle of road rage just keeps getting crazier.
Automobiles also play a part in the next two stories. In the first, a short-tempered family man, who happens to be an explosives expert, becomes one of the numerous victims of an opportunistic towing company, whose contract with the city government makes them impervious to any legal recourse. Getting his car towed on the day of his little girl’s birthday party has repercussions that wind up ruining his life. It’s one of those “it can’t get worse, but oh yes it can” kind of stories. The fifth tale is the only one that’s not really funny—a spoiled young man who lives with his parents kills a pregnant woman in a hit-and-run. Then his rich father, with the help of the family lawyer, decides to use his money to get someone else to take the rap. It’s a tale of greed and moral blindness that leaves us without redemption.
But fittingly, Szifron saves the best for his last and longest tale. During an expensive wedding reception, the bride (Erica Rivas, in the film’s most outstanding performance) discovers that her groom has cheated on her with one of the wedding guests. She goes ballistic, and turns the reception into a disaster of epic proportions. The story plays against the exaggerated, over-dramatic essence of wedding celebrations, and it’s joyously insane and hilarious.
It’s not often that these short story-type films work this well. I think one of the reasons Wild Tales is so much fun is that it’s not afraid to pull out all the stops—it seems like almost anything could happen, and that makes for a wild ride indeed.