The English language title “Wild Tales” doesn’t do this Argentinian double-triptych justice. There’s more than just a little lost in translation.
A more literal interpretation of the original Spanish title – Relatos Salvajes or “Savage Stories” – along with it’s tagline (which implores you to “discover your savage side”) helps clue you in to the darkly comic barbarism that Damián Szifron presents here.
Of the six different protagonists we meet, each is seeking to achieve a moral victory. There are some successes, and some failures too, but what Szifron is chiefly concerned with is the cost of winning:
I. A man, harangued by failure throughout his life, assembles his adversaries on a plane and flies it into his parents – they’re to blame too. Our (anti)hero might be dead, but so are they. A victory?
II. A lowly waitress, serving terrible food in a nowheresville diner encounters the loan shark responsible for her father’s death. She wants revenge, but the rat poison the chef adds to his food is a step too far. She tries to stop him from eating it, only to be violently attacked. That is until the Chef stabs him to death in front of his son leaving our heroine scot-free. Justice?
IV. A demolition expert faces divorce, separation from his daughter and unemployment after his personal crusade against the unfair towing of his car intensifies to a violent outburst. That is until he goes for broke and detonates his car in the parking lot of the tow truck company. “Bombita” (Little Bomb) is born. He’s imprisoned but lauded as a hero for his rebellion, winning back his wife and daughter in the process. A triumph?
V. A wealthy father tries to pay his way out of his son’s hit and run, only to find himself fleeced by the family lawyer. In the end he plays hardball and successfully lowers the fee, only to have the willing stooge killed by the bereaved spouse. Winning?
VI. The final story sees a bride discover that her husband has cheated on her as they prepare to share their first dance. Grief turns to revenge all too quickly as she easily outdoes his misgivings, sleeping with a chef, slut shaming the mistress head first into a mirror and bringing her beau and his mother to their knees, sobbing – “Film this for me, Nestor!” she pleads. At the end, with nothing left to give, and an exhausted wedding party looking on, our couple resurrect their romance and begin to have sex all over their wedding cake. Lesson learned?
But the real centre piece here is the third story – Szifron’s take on Spielberg’s “Duel”. Whilst Spielberg ratchets the tension up slowly over the course of ninety minutes, here there’s no time for that. We go from mild road rage as a beat up banger blocks a brand new Audi from passing, to an electric encounter as the Audi speeds past, suffers a flat tyre and must confront the man he flips off and calls a “motherf***ing wetback”. The violence escalates, the moral compass swings back and forth and the sequence culminates in the darkest of poetic justices.
This is Argentina’s most successful film of all time and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a universal truth to each of these stories and a Curb Your Enthusiasm on crack feel to the scenarios that play out. It never bores, instead offering the amount of laughs that a brilliantly pointed satire like this ought to.
“Wild Stories” was nominated for a Best Foreign Language film Oscar in 2015, but sadly didn’t win – where is the justice in that?