Is revenge really a dish best served cold? This and many other questions are answered in the beautifully executed Wild Tales from director Damián Szifrón and producer Pedro Almodóvar. The film, in Spanish with English subtitles, is an Argentinian production that was nominated for the Oscar for best foreign language film for 2014, and is now playing at the Darkside Cinema in Corvallis.
The film is arranged as an anthology of six shorts that share one common theme: revenge. The beauty and the brilliance of it is that each story tackles revenge from a different angle, and comes to a different realization. It’s not a preaching moral allegory about how revenge consumes the avenger; it’s a non-judgmental tapestry about the possibilities and the different motivations for vengeance.
The first story is the shortest and simplest, and unfortunately in light of recent tragedies, may hit a little close to home for some. Let’s just say it takes place on an airplane whose safe arrival is definitely in doubt. I would hate to ruin the delightful payoff of the short introduction, but it perfectly frames up the ensuing “sympathy for the devil” you’ll be feeling as you watch each tale unfold.
One of the shorts tackles revenge in its most distilled natural form: the brainlessness of a road rage incident. One tackles the complete opposite: the measured, proportional, justified, and eventually validated revenge of a man pushed too far by bureaucracy. One of the segments brilliantly sets up a brief and brutal act of revenge by distracting us with a complex story of a rich man trying to buy his way out of justice. Then there’s also the glorious tale of revenge by proxy in a dark café one stormy night, and a wedding with more in store than your normal family drama.
Ricardo Darín, who many will remember for his brilliant turn in the Argentinian film Nine Queens (2000), shines in one of the most relatable tales of the bunch. But the whole cast is nearly flawless as they capture a world that’s at once universal and uniquely Argentinian.
This is where Wild Tales elevates from the quirkiness and strong storytelling that mark other great anthology films such as Four Rooms (1995) or New York Stories (1989), and explodes into classic territory. The segments could conceivably be shown on their own as there’s no linking element such as Ted the Bellhop in the case of Four Rooms, but together they enrich each other with their nuances about modern life, and the visceral, organic nature of seeking sweet get-back. These are not simple stories that teach you something about revenge versus morality, or how vengeance eats away at you slowly. These are quick hits that tell us something about the world we live in. This is because of the truth at the heart of our justice system: that we constantly lie to ourselves to get on with it. Is incarceration justice or revenge? Is the death penalty revenge or deterrent? Is evil really a thing? Or is it a manifestation of our differing definitions of right and wrong?
Szifrón asks these questions and a thousand others with light strokes of humor and stark notes of beauty. But there’s also a dark side. While it’s never far from a sharp laugh, the film also never forgets the truest universality of revenge, that violence is violence, and the truth of that cannot be explained away by any perceived slight. In this, the film is at its strongest, allowing us to laugh at the sad hilarity of human futility while never feeling the human cost is not appreciated. When people die for their beliefs, or kill for their sense of personal justice, we all lose something as a species.
And most beautiful of all, sometimes the honesty of revenge can bring us back to ourselves before we were transgressed against, whether or not we can actually be that person again.
Can innocence lost ever be regained on the end of a knife? There’s only
one way six ways to find out.
Wild Tales is playing at the Darkside Cinema; showtimes and prices are available at www.darksidecinema.com.