category: Review

Side Street Films: Wild Tales

Thursday, May 14, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

Oscar Wilde famously wrote that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’. In the Argentine film Wild Tales, director Damian Szifron and producer Pedro Almodovar aim to show that this is merely one among many ways vengeance can be doled out. A more literal translation of its original Spanish language title would be Savage Tales, and I consider this a more fitting and accurate epithet to the film’s content, even though it may appear less catchy! Over its two-hour duration, Szifron ably illustrates a number of other incidences involving vengeance, ranging from explosions – both fatal and non-fatal – to knives, rat poison, hijacking, and sex.

It should be noted that although this is a feature-length production, Wild Tales is not what would conventionally be considered a ‘feature film’, as it comprises of eight entirely unrelated and unconnected ‘stand-alone’ vignettes, among which – although they all ostensibly take place in (a slightly hyper-real version of) a contemporary Argentina – no character nor actor from any given vignette appears in any of the other scenes. Nor is there any connecting thread other than their vague thematic fraternity linking the pieces.


Furthermore, each film within-a-film all – with one notable exception – are restricted to one among a diverse range of locations: aboard an aeroplane, in a roadside diner, on a long desert road, at a millionaire’s mansion, and at a wedding reception. The penultimate vignette is the exception to the rule, as it alone possesses a narrative structure resembling a précis of a film, with a plot set over a period of days, rather than minutes, and involving various city locations: offices, streets, flats and prisons.

The film as a whole not only functions as a very fine pitch-black comedy, but certain parts serve as a well observed, but damning, critique of the corruption and duplicity evident in aspects of Argentine life and its effect on the everyday lives of ordinary people. However, the points raised – be they allegorical or literal – are surely representative of the problems afflicting other South American nations and even certain Mediterranean states. While certain scenes serve primarily as critiques of the human condition, others are out-and-out parodies seemingly played entirely for (dark) laughs, but with a few sly digs at those in high places slipped in between the jokes.

The acting, too, is generally of a high calibre, although admittedly few characters are on screen long enough to really demonstrate the versatility of those portraying them. Famed Argentine actors Dario Grandinetti and Ricardo Darin feature among the cast, but other performances are so excellent and exude such an amount of character in the brief amount of time they are on screen, that their character’s personalities are seemingly immediately apparent, and this is a necessity when most only get such a short amount of screen time.

In conclusion, it should be clear that from the above that this film is technically proficient, funny, well-acted and highly enjoyable. However, truth be told, as entertaining as each of the segments may be, the work as a whole it is not as great as the sum of its parts. I could not point to a single element of the film that was particularly weak – that some segments are slightly weaker than others is an unfortunate, almost inevitable, consequence of the quality of certain scenes rather than a result of any flaw in the production. Nor should this be read as a serious criticism of the film – which I enjoyed a great deal – but solely as an unfortunate consequence of its lack of a unifying thread in relation to its length.

Had there been a character, or an event, which unified the piece, it would have felt much more like a film, rather than a collection of highly enjoyable vignettes. Still, even as it stands, Wild Tales is a highly amusing piece of entertainment with a number of serious messages bubbling just under the surface, and I would not hesitate in recommending it.

Category Review

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