Among this year’s Academy Award nominees for best foreign language film, one work stands out — for being funny.
True to its name, the at-times riotously unruly “Wild Tales” is an outlier in a group of movies characterized by corruption (“Leviathan”), war (“Tangerines”), jihadist oppression (“Timbuktu”) and the long shadow of the Holocaust (“Ida,” the winner in this category).
Which is not to say that “Wild Tales” is a day at the circus.
The Argentinian film, an anthology of six unrelated vignettes, mostly on the theme of vengeance, opens with a short piece called “Pasternak.” Set on a plane, it’s essentially a “Saturday Night Live”-style skit in which the passengers discover, much to their collective chagrin, that they have wronged the unseen man whose name lends the piece its title, and who has hijacked the aircraft to extract a violent payback.
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Rather than mine the scene for drama or horror, writer-director Damián Szifrón instead goes for, and gets, laughs. The opening scene is a darkly comic revenge fantasy that, let’s face it, many of us have no doubt entertained some version of. Szifrón handles the tone and presentation masterfully. This wild tale, like the rest of them, is slick, satisfying and slyly subversive.
The half-dozen chapters vary in length and subject matter, but not in style or the efficiency of their message. Whether it’s a story about a man who snaps after his car is towed for a parking infraction (the always excellent Ricardo Darín); a waitress who discovers that her customer is the loan shark who drove her father to suicide (Julieta Zylberberg); two drivers caught in an escalating case of road rage (Leonardo Sbaraglia and Walter Donado); or a bride who becomes a bridezilla upon learning that her groom has been unfaithful (Erica Rivas), each of the bits is a sharply observed case study in human nature. The protagonists are exaggerated without being caricatures.
Only the short called “The Bill” feels a bit out of step with the other pieces. It’s not about revenge, for one thing, but that doesn’t really matter. The tale of a rich man (Oscar Martinez) who tries to buy his way out of trouble when his son is involved in a hit-and-run accident that kills a pregnant woman is much darker than the other shorts. Although the other pieces in “Wild Tales” are just as violent — involving an explosion, mass murder, poisoned food and a fight to the death — the mood of bitter cynicism in “The Bill” feels out of whack, considering what came before it and what comes after.
Szifrón ends his film on a high note with the marital-themed “Till Death Do Us Part.” Much of the story relates a wedding reception meltdown by a woman, not scorned, but cheated on. She gets her revenge by turning the tables on her philandering spouse. But we get the last laugh, as she and the man who wronged her (Diego Gentile) end up wildly — if insanely — happy, for the moment, if not ever after.
(At the Glenwood Arts, Tivoli, Town Center.)
Rated R | Time: 2:02
In Spanish with subtitles