Wild Tales Dir. Damian Szifron

[Sony Pictures Classics; 2014]

Styles: comedy, satire
Others: The Bottom of the Sea, Magnolia

Though it fell out of vogue years ago, filmmakers are still attempting to work in the “everything is connected and profound” trope that was popularized by Magnolia and, for many, derailed by Crash (2004). In Wild Tales (originally titled Relatos salvajes), the trope is reconfigured for a revenge-themed omnibus, a half-dozen dark comic yarns connected by words, thoughts, and images. Still, writer-director Damian Szifron satirizes “connectivity’s” clichéd form in its opening sequence, in which a beautiful model, a music critic, and dozens more realize why they all, through more than “cosmic coincidence,” are aboard a doomed plane flight. In a contemporary setting where air travel grows more intimidating, it takes a bold, clear mind to bring the scene from worst nightmare to wondrous absurdity. It’s a path Szifron treads throughout the film.

Side-stepping the beats of anthologies past, Wild Tales does not boast recurring characters, nor does it acknowledge consequences beyond the lengths of their individual stories. The acts and their consequences are self-contained, unpredictable, and wholly entertaining. Each tale coasts on the mere thought of revenge. Whether and how it is acted upon varies from one situation to the next. The first is a young waitress’s dilemma to poison the mobster who killed her father. Her hesitance clashes with the urges of her ex-con cook, who has her own ideas about justice, mostly in the form of rat poison. The next, a roadside class war, builds upon the previous tale’s use of isolation while rearranging the motives into categories of pettiness and institutionalized opposition. While that story used vehicles as a cause for personal revenge, the third uses them to jump-start a parable on society’s inherent criminality: a demolitions expert’s life is ruined by a routine, but nevertheless infuriating, act of towing. His vengeance is at once an act of terrorism and heroism. Each tale, all equally twisted and tense, comes to a head in the wedding from below the depths of Hell, which is as anarchic as, yet somehow more affirming and less cynical than, anything before.

In its pursuit to rescue a tired premise from the past sins of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Paul Haggis, Wild Tales resonates more with horror anthologies. The fates of the characters are dug deep by each story’s twist, often ending in resolution worthy of pre-code EC comics. Whether it be bitter irony, a cruel pun, or (in the finale’s case) a reminder that living is, indeed, the best revenge, Szifron would rather the audience take perverted delight in the evil that men (and women) do than shame themselves for it. The film lingers a few moments on being on the nose (repeated mentions of Facebook as a substitute for human linkage, for example), but Szifron laughs last; clearly fed up with other filmmakers’ laziness, Wild Tales’s very existence is his own revenge.

Most Read