Wild at heart.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the Klingons once so famously distinguished. Quentin Tarantino recapitulated that sentiment to herald his revenge saga Kill Bill, a duo of films that share a degree of aesthetic kinship with Damián Szifrón’s short film omnibus, Wild Tales. Szifrón’s film, produced by Pedro Almodóvar alongside his younger brother Agustín Almodóvar, has been an enormous success around the world, nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes as well as being the official Argentinian entree for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards. It’s also the most widely seen Argentinean film of all time, according to ticket sales. The unprecedented popularity of the film may come down to the relentlessly diverse assault of narrative and sentiment that Szifrón generates. Simultaneously funny, moving, grotesque and absurd and uncompromising on all fronts, Wild Tales is a smorgasbord of cinema and a kaleidoscope of notions. There’s surely something for everyone in Wild Tales. Whether there should be something for everyone is another matter.
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it’s also arguably the most useless of all human reactions. The six films that comprise Wild Tales use revenge as a focal point to highlight just how useless a lot of our other reactions and reactions are. “Calm down,” a character in one of the latter films suggests to a crying woman. “These things happen.” They sure do, but Szifrón’s other characters don’t seem to know it. A plane is highjacked by a pilot with a thin skin, a chef becomes overly enthusiastic about sticking up for a co-worker, a bout of road rage ends disastrously, a demolitions expert becomes affronted by bureaucracy, a father discovers the worth of his son and a bride embraces her reckless side. Revenge may be the common denominator in each short but there is no homogenous outcome. Death, life, martyrdom and sex are just a handful of resolutions to Szifrón’s conflict.
Wild Tales is mostly compelling for its running time, but falters when the action becomes irrational to the point of being fanciful. The strongest parts of the shorts are when Szifrón bends reality, but doesn’t break it. It’s here when meaning becomes possible but not necessarily actual and Wild Tales is at its most thought provoking. Like in any episodic narrative, some chapters are better than other and if there’s something in there for everyone then surely by natural consequence then there will be something for everyone to find fault in. You enjoyment of the film may have something to do with how well you just go with it all. The final episode is also the weakest and it’s an unfortunate way to end the film.
Imagine the humour of Almodóvar, the structure of twisted serials like Freaky Stories or Tales from the Crypt with the strength for dialogue and enthusiasm for violence of Quentin Tarantino (there’s even a bloody bride) and there’s some indication of the direction that Szifrón has steered this film. It’s rare that a film so wholeheartedly endeavours to marry humour and grim drama and even more rare that one succeeds so often. Is there meaning to any of it? Perhaps not, but when Wild Tales is at its best it certainly feels as though there could be. Perhaps it’s meaning that sets these characters off into irrationality in the first place and we all need to calm down. These things happen. It’s all useless. Act accordingly.