Manero

Wild Tales

By: Yehudit Mam

This audacious movie by Damián Szifrón —nominated for the Oscar to Best Foreign Film— is a collection of five short movies and a surreal opening teaser. The stories are wild, indeed, but instead of being set among the beautiful wild animals that appear on the opening credits, they take place in a (mostly) urban Argentina, among human beings. These are moral tales, twisted little fables about social resentment, injustice and the endless human capacity for nastiness. The title (Relatos Salvajes in the original) gives Szifrón the permission to take these stories to wild extremes. And they are horribly funny.

In Szifrón’s vision, civilization is a scratch away from savagery. The stories skirt the improbable but are rooted in the reality of a country like Argentina, with its social inequity, legendary corruption, demonic bureaucracy, and the tensions between its social classes. Anybody hailing from Latin America will recognize these situations with a knowing shudder. But you don't have to be from a disfunctional Third World country to identify. Have you ever had to pay a fine at the tow pound more than once? Have you been cheated on, or have you cheated on the love of your life? Have you ever had a pissing contest with a resentful motorist? Or fantasized revenge on someone who hurt you long ago? Then you'll understand.

Collections of short films tend to be a showcase for different directors and writers, but Szifrón wrote and directed all the stories. He is very good at the genre. His stories build one terrible irony after another and are filled with twists and turns. Even when you know where they are heading, they leave you feeling uncomfortable. This is a good thing.

He takes "what if?", the question that helps start any story, to imagine what would happen if people did what they really want to do under powerless circumstances.

In one story, a young waitress in an empty restaurant recognizes the bully that ruined her family. The cook promptly suggests a swift revenge. But there's a twist: revenge is complicated.

In the most metaphorical of the stories, two macho motorists, one rich, one poor, taunt each other on an empty road, escalating the conflict to the point of violent absurdity.

In a fantasy of bureaucratic retribution, an upstanding guy (the great Ricardo Darín) completely ruins his life for trying to fight corruption at the tow pound—but there is a happy-ish end. This tension between tragedy and humor, this laughing at human-made misfortune makes this a remarkable movie.

Only one of the four stories is truly tragic, and though bitterly ironic, not funny at all. A rich young man commits a hit and run. His family starts the machinery of buying people off, until it is apparent that the minute they go down that road there is no end to extorsion. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. How much is a life worth? It depends, of course, on whose life.

Through these stories of ordinary citizens trying to preserve themselves in a ruthless society, Szifrón weaves a thread of humor so icy black, it chills the veins. He knows to end the movie with a very funny tale about a lifetime of married grief compressed into a single wedding night. After this crazy wedding, the lovely couple should be ready for anything. He ends his dark, wild tales with a glimmer of hope.

LOGISTICS: In theaters now. Watch the trailer.

Yehudit Mam has been in love with movies since her mom took her to see Krakatoa, East of Java when she was a little girl. She is a film blogger, a creative director in advertising, and cofounder of dada.nyc.