Argentine Darkness

FILM by  Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Wild Tales
RPL Film Theatre
May 14-17
4 out of 5

Though it was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category, one knew early on Wild Tales had no chance. While the rest of the candidates could be described as humanistic to a fault (none more than Ida, the winner), Wild Tales is mean-spirited and proudly so. Almost every character is an asshole and the entertainment comes from knowing most of these people deserve what’s coming to them.

The film’s six stories are not narratively connected but the undercurrent is the same: confronted with the choice between taking the high road or getting even, odds are people will choose the latter. In each case, there are no cool heads in sight and, as Ron Burgundy would put it, situations escalate quickly.

Like I said, Wild Tales has six stories. Here’s the rundown:

PASTERNAK A group of strangers on a plane realize they all know the same person. Not only that, they all wronged him in some fashion and none of them paid for their ticket. Paranoia ensues. Similarities to the Germanwings crash may or may not ensue.

THE RATS A loan shark stops at a highway café. The unsavoury character is recognized by the waitress as the man responsible for her dad’s suicide. The cook offers to add rat poison to his meal, but the girl can’t bring herself to kill someone. Meanwhile, the moneylender grows more objectionable by the minute.

THE STRONGEST The best of the bunch. A yuppie and a mechanic make each other’s lives miserable on a deserted highway. A flat tire forces the yuppie to park next to a bridge and he become a sitting duck for the irate trucker. Each driver gets the upper hand at different times, without realizing they’re trapped in a vicious circle.

LITTLE BOMB The most relatable. A chain of mishaps and escalating humiliations turn a regular Joe into a big ball of anger, causing irreparable damage to his career and his family. Moral of the story: the only thing worse than a bureaucratic nightmare is a corrupt bureaucracy.

THE PROPOSAL A trust-fund brat runs over and kills a pregnant woman. Ahead of his capture, the boy’s dad offers the gardener money to take the fall. Soon the family’s lawyer and the detective in charge of the investigation also want a piece of the pie.

UNTIL DEATH DO US PART In the midst of her wedding party, a bride finds out her new husband has been unfaithful with a woman in attendance. She attempts every possible form of revenge before the cake is even cut.

There are no low points in Wild Tales. Perhaps the last one is less disciplined than the others, but entertaining nonetheless. The movie is at its best whenever it’s hitting disturbing notes. “The Strongest” episode is the most conspicuous offender: No matter which driver you side with, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.

Produced by Pedro Almodóvar, Wild Tales is actually better than the Spaniard’s last four or five movies, perhaps because is devoid of the phony sentimentality that permeates his current work. The movie is full of lessons, but it doesn’t hammer the audience with them. The most obvious one: A cool head is a blessing. There isn’t one in sight for two hours.

2015-05-14