LFF: Wild Tales review

Wild Tales, a portmanteau film comprised of six stories, opens with one of the funniest sequences I’ve seen in some time.

This scene ends with a punchline that is immediately obvious to some but takes a little longer for others to ‘get,’ which results in a slow build of laughter. In my screening, this climaxed at the moment writer-director Damian Szifron employed a freeze frame and the credits begin. We were already roaring with laughter, we had gasped with amazement and the opening titles hadn’t even started.

Szifron had his work cut out in topping that opening. And much to my delight, he did just that.

The six ‘wild tales’ that Szifron chooses to tell us are the opening sequence set on a plane, in which all the passengers slowly realise they are part of a dastardly revenge plan; the story of a waitress who must choose whether or not to poison a man who has wronged her; an act of road rage with deliciously escalating consequences; a demolition expert’s battle against parking tickets; a case of hit and run by a wealthy young man; and a wedding that goes disastrously wrong by result of the husband’s infidelity.

As those descriptions imply, each tale is related with revenge, but Szifron is mostly interested in vengeance against those in power, the wealthy, the privileged and the corrupt.

The most politically-charged episode is likely the hit and run story, in which a father attempts to cover up his son’s act of manslaughter by paying his groundskeeper to take the fall and then bribing the investigating officer to make it all just go away. This story takes an amusing turn when it becomes more about petty squabbling over how much each party will get. It may not, admittedly, be the funniest of the six but you will come away with a clear sense that Szifron is frustrated, and that he’s found satire to be the best weaponat his disposal.

Bureaucracy and a government weighted against the people both come under the microscope again in the segment about a demolition expert. This character, played one of Argentina’s most widely known actors, Ricardo Darin, fights back against a government-backed tow company that keep taking his car despite the roads not being clearly marked. His Kafkaesque struggle leads to a very funny ending that, whilst perhaps being one one of the more predictable moments in Wild Tales, is nonetheless hugely entertaining.

The least predictable tale starts with a simple act of road rage from an Audi driver against a “redneck” who gets in his way on a desert highway. What follows is the kind of escalation that one would be more likely to find in a Warner Bros. cartoon than a live-action film, but Szifron ratchets up the excess just one notch at a time, and never loses the audience as he unravels the seemingly simple set-up of two men and two cars in a desert. There is so much inventiveness crammed into this one section, including some superb action choreography inside an upturned car, that this story alone marks out Szifron as a highly talented director.

Wild Tales is an incredibly slick affair, with high quality ‘scope cinematography throughout that has more in common with a high budget Hollywood action thriller than it does the flatter and more simplistic shooting style of most American studio comedies. And the film is often like a thriller, in fact, as Wild Tales will frequently have you on the edge of your seat, waiting with baited breath to see what happens next, then gasping when something entirely unexpected and utterly hilarious occurs.

Wild Tales is an absolute blast and it’s such a pleasure to watch a comedy that’s also utterly thrilling, suspenseful and loaded with sincere social commentary.