Wild Tales ***
Dir: Damián Szifron. With: Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Ricardo Darin. 15 cert, 122 min
Vengeance has powered countless movies over the years, but rarely can it have been given such a thorough – and thoroughly entertaining – showcase as it gets in Wild Tales, Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifron’s Oscar-nominated portmanteau of tales from the dark side of human nature. The agenda is set in a short, sharp prologue, as a mid-air conversation between a music critic and a model leads to an entire passenger roster realising they’ve wronged the wrong guy; with the revelation nobody paid for their own ticket, the stomach promptly plummets several thousand feet. Adopt the brace position: we’re in for extreme turbulence.
On the ground, a waitress ponders whether to poison the customer who fleeced her parents, a flash motorist squares up to a middle-lane hogger, a wedding party unravels into bloody chaos after an infidelity accusation…: time and again, we’re left watching – sometimes horrified, most often amused – as people are pushed to the brink and beyond, and small lapses in self-control change the courses of multiple lives. You can be driving an Audi 3000 or wearing black tie – in this world, inner beast prowls dangerously close to civilised surface; when temperatures rise to jungle level, primal instinct takes over.
Szifron plays Looney Tunes variations on his theme. Each time, we know our vexed Wile E. Coyotes will pay for their pursuit of life’s blithe Road Runners, yet we’re never sure just what that payment will involve. Brained by an anvil? Blown to smithereens? We expect Ricardo Darín, Argentinian cinema’s Rock Steady Eddie, to stay cool, but even his workaholic engineer – left carless after a parking violation – finds himself worn down by the city’s byzantine regulations. Occasionally, the eruptions prove liberating; more commonly, these characters emerge bruised and bedraggled, if they emerge at all. No-one comes out of it looking good exactly.
Save for one man – Szifron himself, for whom Wild Tales serves as a sharp-edged calling card: he pulls off intimate, knife-in-the-back character business as well as blowing stuff up in screenfilling set-pieces. (We see Darin demolishing cooling towers, but the whole project’s a supremely controlled explosion.) When the dust settles, you might question what it adds up to: an extended exercise in schadenfreude, perhaps, or possibly a valuable reminder, in this increasingly intemperate universe, of the benefits of keeping your fists in your pockets. Either way, while it’s boiling over, it’s satisfyingly snippy fun – the movie equivalent of cutting three inches off a cheating ex’s trousers.
Wild Tales opens in selected cinemas from today.