By Marc S. Sanders
Humans were meant to be distressed. It just goes with the territory. It’s in our nature to distress one another and respond with another layer of distress. It’s also a cosmic element of practically any environment we find ourselves in. Within our journeys of life, when we are striving to be better as a spouse, a parent or worker, it takes an acceptance of stress to get to where we want to be. It’s only when we die that we can truly rest in peace. Wedding planning or road rage or airline travel can be overly taxing. Your car could get towed, a person from your past could turn up or you can even become unreasonably extorted when faced with extenuating circumstances. It all seems so unfair or inconvenient or intrusive. So, I find it interesting that director Damián Szifron would provide the credits of the cast and crew for his film Wild Tales against a backdrop of wildlife animals. Humans may be the dominant species, but even they have animal instincts that can spiral wildly out of control.
With writer, Germán Servidio, Szifron offers up six different short stories in this Argentinian film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Oscars. Each story focuses on an opportunity for revenge or an experience of high stress where people come in contact with other people. Granted, some of the stories are so outrageous in circumstance, response and outcome that I’d find them hard to believe they truly happened if someone vouched for it. For example, you likely never saw a wedding reception like the one staged in this film. I don’t care who you are. YOU NEVER SAW A WEDDING LIKE THIS!!!! Still, this is a very entertaining film that left me curious with how each story was going to play out.
A truly engaging airline experience prologues the credits when a beautiful model strikes up a conversation with the elderly gentlemen across the aisle. When a woman in the next row can’t help but eavesdrop on their exchange, a most unexpected event occurs. Doom awaits!!! More importantly, though, why does it await? It’s a brilliant opening, likely never to occur in real life, but altogether unexpected and humorously shocking.
Following the credits, a question of morality and revenge plays out in an after-hours diner when someone from a waitress’ past enters for a late night meal. This is the most incomplete vignette of the bunch, but the narrative remains interesting.
Listed below the airline tale, my next favorite tale involves a road rage incident between the driver of a beautiful black Audi and someone who drives an old jalopy of a car. Likely, it is the most relatable of all the stories. We’ve all either experienced some form of road rage, or read about it, or have committed or been tempted to engage. There’s a strong lesson to be learned from this story and it is rather incredible how this encounter between two descends into madness.
Stories of extortion and unfair city policies fill out the other slots, before finally closing on a wedding from hell.
What’s interesting is that while the stories may rely somewhat on their dialogue, I believe I could watch Wild Tales without knowing much of what is being said. The cast is phenomenal in expression and response. Szifron quickly sets up the scene and then has his various token characters react to what faces them. We see the extremes a bride goes to when an unexpected guest appears at her reception. We are the lone witness to how a driver will seize an opportunity when another driver is stranded on a lonesome highway with a flat tire. We can understand the persistence a man will uphold in order to prove he did not commit a parking violation. Wild Tales does not depend on crackling dialogue. Instead, the visuals and the performances do a lot of the work.
Too often, I hear that people will not watch films with subtitles. They cannot stand to “read” a film. Come on!!!! You have to allow yourself the opportunity to uncover amazing documents of cinematic escapism beyond the American fare. No film hinges on the subtitles that flash across the bottom of the screen. Like any movie, the primary element is the photography of the piece. Since I am not much of a traveler, domestic or international, it is so refreshing when I’m reminded that cultures, behaviors and customs outside my comfort zone of the United States, are not any different from me or the people I surround myself with. We are all capable of love, drama, humor, sacrifice, crime and an innate possibility of flying off the handle in very, very extreme ways, whether we are justified or not.
I am not familiar with many foreign pictures. Honestly, I don’t get motivated enough to seek them out. I need to lighten my reluctance. It is fortunate that my colleague, Miguel E Rodriguez, provided this entertaining, mischievously fun collection of devilish short thrillers to our Cinephile movie group for a Sunday viewing. Damián Szifron has crafted a film that you can’t take your eyes off. The photography is striking with amazing camera angles such as a point of view from inside an airplane luggage compartment or from the sidewalk ground level where an automobile owner discovers that his car has been wrongfully possessed. Miguel says moments like these are Tarantino inspired. Maybe. I like to think I’m watching a film by Damián Szifron, an insightful and skilled director at the top of his game.