Take a Drink: every time someone says, “Pasternak.”
Take a Drink: every time you see the box of rat poison.
Take a Drink: every time someone says, “Ariel.”
Do a Shot: every time something explodes.
Shogun a Beer: when you see an Argentine license plate.
By: Amelia Solomon (A Toast) –
Wild Tales is the latest Spanish language foreign film, from Argentina, to hit the United States during its limited release run. Produced by Agustin and Pedro Almodovar, who gained fame for their well-received earlier works which included All About My Mother, Talk to Her, and Volver, and directed and written by Damian Szifron, the film explores the pressures that every day people face and what happens when they are tested beyond their limits.
Wild Tales is told through six separate short stories. None of the characters appear in more than one story, and none are related to a different character in another story. In other words, there is no connection between the subjects that Director Szifron focuses on. But, there is a common thread that ties each of the stories together. It’s the theme of revenge; which ends up being the unfortunate combustible result in each story, after the main character psychologically snaps from a stressful situation and does whatever’s necessary in order to survive.
Each of the six stories in Wild Tales, although connected in their message, could stand alone as a successful short film. There was not one story which was weaker than another. Some were longer, some shorter, some funnier, and some darker, but each of them worked and brought important lessons to the audience.
The first story, “Pasternak”, was by far the most absurd and the funniest. It served as the perfect story to open the film with, as it clued the viewer into the fact that they were about to go on a crazy ride with Director Szifron, and it would be different from your average film, and for that I was grateful. Without giving too much away, it involves a plane of passengers brought together by a man named Pasternak. Each of the passengers knew Pasternak at some point in their life, and each of them wronged him. When they realize that they all know Pasternak, they begin to suspect something strange is happening and panic ensues as the plane hurtles through the air.
The second story, “Las Ratas” (The Rats), is at the same time hysterical and gruesome. A young waitress realizes her customer is a mobster, who had ruined the lives of her family. She confides this information to the cook, and a cat and mouse game ensues between them of will they or won’t they put rat poison in the customer’s food. The tension is high, and as a viewer I found myself able to empathize with both the waitress and the mobster. In fact, Szifron does an excellent job of allowing the viewer to get into the heads of the characters and understand their motives, root for them, and want them to often do something bad. The entire film is a lesson in what could happen, if we crossed the line we’re not supposed to.
The third story, “El mas fuerte” (The strongest), is by far the best and the one in which you’ll be talking to your friends about when you exit the theater. It involves a simple case of road rage between a white-collar executive and blue-collar “redneck”, as he’s described in the piece. What starts off with a classic middle finger insult quickly deteriorates into a full-scale war, between two men whose rage boils over so quickly and so uncontrollably that they unknowingly seal their own fates as they set out to destroy one another. What makes this story so effective is that every viewer has been in a similar situation, and they know that this story is not absurd at all. It’s downright real, and that’s why it leaves a serious mark on the audience’s psyche.
The fourth story, “Bombita” (Little bomb), follows an Engineer whose car gets towed, even though he followed all the parking rules. This simple mistake, which happens often to people in many cities throughout the world, kicks off a chain of events that sends his life into a downward spiral. With nothing working in his favor, he decides to get even.
The fifth story, “La Propuesta” (The Proposal), involves a wealthy family who attempts to cover up a tragic accident that their young son caused. It explores issues of class, family, and wealth. It brings to the forefront such questions as, is it okay to break the law if it means protecting your family? Again, in Wild Tales the line between right and wrong is always frayed and very grey. Nothing is black or white in this film.
The sixth and final story, “Hasta que la muerte nos separe” (Until death do us part), takes place at an over-the-top large wedding reception. Based on the prior stories, one expects that something is about to happen. Director Szifron takes what is normally a joyous occasion and rips it apart in a meticulously planned manner. This last story is perhaps the most ridiculous and borders on farce. I have to admit, it was my least favorite of the six, but it worked well as the closing piece because it ended the film on a comic note and seemed like a necessary tension breaker.
Wild Tales was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the recent Academy Awards. Although it didn’t win, the film is the perfect example of why foreign films are often more enlightening and layered than Hollywood studio fare. Director Szifron is one to watch, and I guarantee he’ll be back at the Oscars in some fashion in the near future.