Lawrence Toppman

‘Wild Tales’: Savage, yet slipshod revenge stories

In the final segment of “Wild Tales,” a new bride (Erica Rivas) contemplates the wreckage of her wedding reception.
In the final segment of “Wild Tales,” a new bride (Erica Rivas) contemplates the wreckage of her wedding reception. AP

Audacity can take you a long way in the movies. It appeals to jaded critics, fans tired of conventional stories and even award voters, which explains why “Wild Tales” earned an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film. But it doesn’t make you a great storyteller.

This anthology consists of six stories about revenge, lasting between 7 minutes and 35. They begin with tremendous impact – the first deserves a short-film Oscar by itself – and grow flabbier and more unfocused. The last one, about a bride who punishes her philandering husband during their wedding reception, ends in a way that’s neither meaningful nor credible.

As noted, Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifrón starts strong: Crew and passengers on a jet airliner discover they have one unfortunate thing in common. (No, they’re not dead.) The piece pounds toward a laugh-out-loud gag, wasting nary a frame.

The second story also has the virtue of brevity. A waitress recognizes the gangster who ruined her family, and the short-order cook at their near-empty restaurant suggests poison would make an apt appetizer. If they’re caught, says this ex-con behind the grill, prison won’t be bad: free meals, leisure time, friends always on hand, no money worries.

The third seems like a throwaway, with a rich guy in a hurry and a mean redneck trading insults on a highway. It accelerates into the world’s worst case of road rage, but we don’t care what happens to either jerk. (Though its last line also induces a snort of laughter.)

Ricardo Darín, Argentina’s best-known actor internationally, gets the only character study in episode four. He plays an engineer who implodes buildings and has a temper that keeps him on the edge of exploding. When his car is towed (wrongfully, he says), the incident sets off a chain reaction of responses that make him a folk hero.

The other episode is about rich parents who try to shield their drunken son by paying a groundskeeper to take the blame for a hit-and-run killing. I suppose this could be some kind of comment on class privilege, though the impoverished groundskeeper negotiates shrewdly for his cut and doesn’t mind lying. Even this sequence turns comic, as the conspirators fall out over dough.

Does Szifrón want us to identify with any of these people or feel anything toward them? I couldn’t tell. He zips through episodes, more concerned with camera angles than credibility or emotion. Speed makes the journey exciting, but does it get us anywhere?

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REVIEW

‘Wild Tales’

This Argentinian drama, an Oscar nominee for best foreign film, consists of six stories that are partly or entirely about people seeking vengeance.

B- STARS: Dario Grandinetti, María Marull, Mónica Villa, Ricardo Darín.

WRITER-DIRECTOR: Damián Szifrón.

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes.

RATING: R (violence, language and brief sexuality).

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