Unfortunately, few of us have the patience to wait for the heat to dissipate — most often to our detriment, as the six stories in Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales remind us. Wild Tales is one of the five Foreign Film Oscar nominees; it also received twenty-one nominations in the Argentine equivalent of the Oscars. It only won in ten categories — but that’s partly because it had multiple nominations in five of them.
Anthology movies are a relatively small class and hard to rank because the stories are inevitably of uneven quality. This is true of Wild Tales, but even the least successful are clever and worth seeing.
All of the episodes include violence — not always onscreen — and four include killings. But Szifrón has an essentially comic world view. The absurdity of the characters’ overreactions is a source of humor in all but one.
The stories are ordered according to length, from the opening seven-minute vignette to the final thirty-minute section. Brevity is the soul of wit — to drag in yet another chestnut of conventional wisdom — and “Pasternak,” the shortest, which takes place during a commercial airline flight, is also the funniest, with a truly ingenious Buñuelian plot and a perfect extra punchline in the last shot.
In “The Rats,” a waitress in an otherwise empty diner recognizes her sole customer as the man who drove her father to suicide. Oh, what to do … what to do … .
Angelenos are likely to have a special interest in the next three stories, all of which are sparked by automotive incidents. In “Road to Hell,” a rich jerk in a fancy new car gratuitously insults a poor guy with a shabby pickup as he passes him. And then he gets a flat tire, enabling his new enemy to catch up to him.
Perhaps the best and most relatable of the bunch is “Bombita,” which stars Ricardo Darin. (Darin, who looks slightly like Joe Mantegna, is a great actor and apparently a big star: he’s had the lead in seven of Argentina’s last fourteen Oscar submissions, including the terrific The Aura and the even more terrific winner The Secret in Their Eyes.) Here, Darin plays a demolitionist, who runs into a bakery to pick up his daughter’s birthday cake and comes out to find that his car has been ticketed and towed from a clearly legal spot. After being repeatedly humiliated and degraded by the towing firm and the local DMV, his frustrated reaction costs him both his job and his family.
Yes, it appears that — in Argentina, as in the U.S. — the entire ticketing/towing bureaucracy is a racket run by gonifs who think your irritation and lack of recourse are just adorably funny. I think we all know the feeling.
The one utterly serious episode is “The Deal,” the plot of which is very similar to this year’s Italian Oscar entry, Human Capital: When a rich kid commits a fatal hit-and-run, his family attempts to get someone else to take the blame.
Finally, “’Til Death Do Us Part” — about the worst wedding party since Lars von Trier’s Melancholia — is the longest and least satisfying. And it’s not bad at all.