Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) packs a lot of punch in its punch, which is aimed at your gut. It is the sort of film that will have you grinning sickly whilst you shake your head, repeating to yourself: ‘Oh yes. Too true. That is exactly right.’
We are horrible.
And then something else superlatively dreadful happens, but rarely as you might expect.
Wild Tales tells six stories that are only connected by the theme of civilized savagery. It is not one of those cutesy (and universally disappointing) anthology projects in which a handful of different directors all contribute short films of various quality; all of Wild Tales is written and directed by Damián Szifron, an Argentinian. As such, it feels more like reading a book of short stories, maybe of the Roald Dahl variety.
Savagery is the film’s subject and the film fittingly holds little back. Its first tale — the briefest — is among the best. Despite the story’s unfortunate prognostication of actual events (‘Oh yes. Too true. That is exactly right.’), it is gleefully macabre. It relates just the sort of madness we undertake as humans.
What Szifron suggests with this teaser, and with the tales that follow, is that we are all just a surface level scratch away from revealing our inner rabid animal. No matter our education, our position, or our trappings, we are, right behind our eyes, bestial.
What we want is others at our mercy. Our teeth at their throats. We might obey or disregard the rules of the road; we might observe the customs of our elders or leave them be; we might bow our heads to propriety but only so far and not for long.
A comedy, Wild Tales presents its stories as anecdotes, with the same gristly, voyeuristic thrill as any newspaper tells of today’s tragedy. It asks you to laugh at yourself in the funhouse mirror and I, for one, happily obliged. While some of its segments reach depths and heights that others fail to plumb, there are no turkeys. There is also nothing complicated; no over-arching gag or reoccurring character to elevate the meaning above the obvious.
We’re animals. Might as well find the humor in it.
Damián Szifron and cinematographer Javier Juliá maintain a consistency in look and feel between the stories, that being one glossy and richly colored. Wild Tales looks like a film and that helps buffer us from the only slightly exaggerated actions of its characters. Just like with Mad Max: Fury Road, the reality here gets disguised with a sheen of artifice. It’s not real, of course, only almost real. Only so potentially real it makes you queasy. It is everyday, just with the volume turned up to extremes.
Of the many fine performances, the standouts are surely Simón Fischer’s barely bottled up candidate for anger management failure of the year (he’s the demolitions expert) and Érica Rivas and Diego Gentile in the final segment, as a bride and groom who take Wild Tales to an unexplored corner; that being to the viciousness we save for those we love most.
Wild Tales hits that sweet spot between art film and entertainment. It isn’t stupid superheroes beating each other up with buildings and it isn’t a depressed 18th century shepherd remembering his youth by wandering through endless fields. It’s something else, something snarky and snakey and, I’m not sorry to say, fun.