Published Mar 05, 2015Despite seemingly falling into the category of art house cinema by default — having a Foreign Language Oscar nomination and being released by boutique, "prestige" distributors in North America — Damián Szifrón's thematically linked anthology film Wild Tales is broadly accessible and viscerally entertaining. In fact, it packs more laughs and more moments of genuine engagement than most of the studio films currently putting asses in seats at multiplexes.
Even before the title sequences comes up, flashing images of wild animals to reiterate the already obvious theme of human absurdity and animalistic impulse, the tone of this pitch-black comedy is set. A group of passengers on a low occupancy flight start engaging in polite chitchat only to discover that they all know the same man. What's worse is that they've all done something truly shitty to that man and have accepted free flights for various, highly unlikely, reasons. This setup is one of the most monumentally vengeful and creative suicides ever conceived. And like every other ludicrous — yet not entirely far-fetched — situation in Wild Tales, it highlights and exaggerates the hostile, ridiculous impulses looming beneath the surface of our social etiquettes.
Though each short film works to its own effect, it's the road rage vignette that really stands out. In addition to being one of two Oscar-nominated films in 2014 to feature a graphic defecation scene, this sequence captures the essence of human absurdity to the greatest effect. Two men engaging in a passing lane pissing match face off in a series of increasingly dangerous acts of aggression; what's frightening about the situation is just how plausible these actions are. And what's hilarious about the situation is how Szifrón frames and paces the scenario, capturing the anger while stepping back for well-timed landscape shots to contextualize just how irrelevant and silly these men and their actions are.
It's this perspective, this somewhat cynical and knowing eye, that helps Wild Tales maintain its understandably limited scope and intention. Szifrón has a shrewd eye for capturing the irony and stupidity of any given situation in a manner that's not entirely dissimilar to the comic works of Barry Levinson. What makes Wild Tales more accessible than Levinson's perpetually underrated works is the insistence of persisting momentum and chaos rather than a focus on the cerebral.
Yes, the reality of an anthology film like this is that it's slight. But it's also indicative of emerging talent and a welcome perspective in the world of cinema.