Wild Tales, written and directed by the Argentine Damián Szifrón narrates six unconnected stories loosely linked by a common theme. Two drivers fight on a deserted road. A man takes it out on everyone who has failed him. A girl sees her wish for revenge fulfilled. In each case the rage felt at some insult or injustice, sometimes built up over many years erupts with violent consequences. A demolition expert contests a parking fine and watches his life implode. A rich man rebels against corruption even when his son’s future is at stake. And in the final, longest sequence a bride snaps when her new husband’s unfaithfulness is revealed.
These situations and the feelings they arouse are nothing new. Watching, I was reminded of the warring lovers in The Taming of the Shrew, Stephen Spielberg’s road movie Duel and Michael Douglas as a worm turning in Falling Down. But Szifrón gives them a local twist by tilting at targets closer to home: machismo, bureaucracy, justice for sale. And he is enough of an artist to know that the outcomes of catharsis are rarely predictable. Four of the episodes end badly, three with a kind of redemption – from which you will guess that one denouement manages both at the same time. This allows him to remain even-handed regarding the Freudian sub-text of his fables. Should the chains of self-control be thrown off along with the rest of civilization’s discontents; or do they exist for a purpose, the anarchy that results from indulging one’s anger the best argument for not letting it show?
Argentine cinema is as vibrant as it is underrated and Wild Tales has most things you might ask of a film: energy, brio, humour, shock – and depth to go with its surface appeal . The direction is beautifully judged: pacy where it needs to be (the wedding celebrations threatening to spin out of control) or backwater slow but still simmering with tension. And Ricardo Darín possesses one of the screen’s most watchable faces. The easiest way of judging a film’s worth is by its half-life in the mind, the rate at which images and interest become depleted. Two days after seeing it might seem rather early to be drawing conclusions, but Szifrón’s anthology shows every sign of passing that test.