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Wild Tales, a scattershot anthology with scant foundation

The eternal, underlying questions of the reader to the critic: are you allergic to entertainment? Did you even see the movie? While to the latter, I did see the entire film, I’m not quite sure I saw the same movie as the raucous crowd around me – enjoying with their teeth Damian Szifron’s revenge based anthology Wild Tales. The film paints the smug rich against the cornered poor in modern Argentina with the same bloodied brush stroke. Characters in their counter-points, counter-punches, quickly become the haves and the have nots (not entirely the same thing) battling for equality; a more acceptable imbalance. Caustic yet rather light, the film’s structure and the layering of tension (an exercise in Breaking Bad-esque genre self-reflexism) is its own shoestring, pulling at the film’s frustrating smugness.

With only six short chapters in its anthology, some ‘episodes’ stick out above and below the others, a common trait in anthology filmmaking especially when each story isn’t structured to build on the foundations laid by those previous. That isn’t quite the case here, hitting off rather strongly with the image of a plane – filled with passengers who all know the same absent person – falling out of the sky as two retirees, we assume the aggrieved parties’ parents, watch on. This, along with the proceeding story of two restaurateurs trying to poison a local loan shark douchebag and the wedding chapter “Death Do Us Part” recalls a brevity of style similar to Almodóvar’s in Woman on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (the Almodóvar brothers also served as producers on this film).

Szifron’s camera in these scenes swirls, swerves and lingers at the right moments, yet it’s in the writing that it falters. Generic dichotomies are set up and played out in “The Strongest” – something like Spielberg’s Duel yet lacking in all subtlety (it requires a homicidal brute, in full view, to set up) – and “Little Bomb”, the most similar to Breaking Bad in style (a ticking time bomb amid neutral colours) and plot: an emasculated man who loses everything before making a play against the system. Both stories end with didactic, safe backslap endings and, given quite a bit of screen time, fracture the movie as a whole and take the edge off Wild Tales’ more bold sequences.

The film’s most intriguing chapter is “The Proposal”, in which a rich businessman and his wife are one morning confronted with news that their son has been involved in a hit and run. The family lawyer, groundskeeper, and the detective become part of the puzzled cover-up. The chapter could easily be retitled “The Godfather:, knowingly referenced and subverted as the businessman-father sits coiled behind his desk – he stubbornly refuses all offers from eager parties. Wealth, rather than family, a tradition hard to bust. Perhaps the greatest performances in the film come from the two actors at the centre of the wedding set “Death Do Us Part”, Erica Rivas and Diego Gentile. The chapter will no doubt be likened to Gone Girl, a redux with pop music that compares favourably, funnily enough to Fincher’s romantic comedy as crime procedural.

Szifron’s film is entertaining enough and for the most part flits by, yet it lacks a knockout punch. More mild tales than wild tales for this viewer’s liking.

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