★ ★ ★ ★
Very few films have been as appropriately titled as writer/director Damian Szifron‘s omnibus black comedy Wild Tales. Szifron has crafted a half-dozen shorts here that buzz with the confidence of an envelope-pushing comedian, who keeps the audience laughing uproariously while constantly challenging their sense of decency. Being brought to—and possibly over—the edge of disgust and outrage has rarely been this much fun.
The less you know about each of the segments, the better, although the setups are ingeniously simple. The opener, the shortest of the bunch, involves a plane full of people who discover they all have something in common. The second is a tale of revenge. The third involves a road-rage incident that escalates beyond reason. The fourth follows a man who has had his fill of corporate bureaucracy. The fifth tells the story of a rich family trying to get their son out of a dire legal situation. The finale takes place at a wedding, where the bride suffers an epic fit of jealousy.
Szifron fuses Quentin Tarantino‘s exhilarating, anything-goes cinematic style with O. Henry-worthy stories about the unexpected consequences of giving in to your worst instincts. But because he makes his characters’ problems so familiar—who hasn’t waited a long time in line to see an official who turns out to be entirely unhelpful, or been cut off in traffic, or wondered about their spouse’s fidelity?—Wild Tales becomes an adult fairy tale rather than a string of sick jokes.
The cast are uniformly excellent, although Ricardo Darín stands out as a demolitions expert brought low by the government’s lack of empathy. The slick Leonardo Sbaraglia and the gritty Walter Donado are perfectly matched in the nearly wordless road-rage story, which plays like a demented Roadrunner cartoon, and Erica Rivas thoroughly encapsulates the movie’s vision of humanity with her portrayal of an unglued bride.
Wild Tales is like a perfectly sequenced album; each of the segments stands on its own, but all six work even better when experienced in the order they’re presented here. Right from the start, Szifron establishes the film’s distinct outlook on life: Jealousy and resentment, if left unchecked, metastasize into violence that sometimes (though not always) hits its intended targets. He slowly but surely increases the laughs and the tension level with each segment, often by getting you to empathize with the protagonists before—and, occasionally, after—they commit some horrible act.
The final story’s ending is as unexpected as it is appropriate, and it reveals that the film’s heart isn’t as black as you might have thought. Szifron hilariously explores the worst of humanity, but ends on a note that will leave you smiling with satisfaction, and maybe even hope, as you walk out of the theater. Wild Tales is a great time at the movies.