Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes) argues payback is more satisfying when it’s doled out in fiery, bloody and outrageous doses. This Oscar-nominated anthology of six short tales about getting even, written and directed by Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifrón, has the humor and bitter irony of an issue of EC Comics, in which horror and crime tales often — but not always — hinged on the morality and ethics of their characters. Usually, the bad guys got what they deserved by the end, with gruesome, funny comeuppances that matched the gravity of their crimes.
That’s not always the case in Wild Tales, since Szifrón uses Argentina’s widespread corruption as the backdrop (or even the impetus) for several of his gleefully dark yarns. Here, sometimes the bad guys win. In one segment, the passengers inside an airplane discover in mid-flight they are all connected, even though they’ve never met each other. In another, a slick hotshot (Leonardo Sbaraglia) driving an expensive sports car insults the driver (Walter Donado) of a jalopy he passes on the highway. Then he gets a flat tire down the road and realizes the man he cursed out will be catching up to him soon.
In the film’s most elaborate tale, Ricardo Darín plays an engineer whose car gets illegally towed and is charged a steep fine. In a quest for justice, he takes on the city’s bureaucracy, with escalating confrontations that lead to disastrous results. The cleverest segment involves a wealthy man (Oscar Martinez) attempting to protect his son, who killed a pregnant woman in a hit-and-run accident. That story, which takes several surprising twists, best illustrates Szifrón’s recurring theme of class warfare in a country in which bribery and power allow the rich to buy their way out of any dilemma while throwing the poor under the bus.
Wild Tales, which also features an encounter between a waitress (Julieta Zylbelberg) and the rude man (Cesar Bordon) who walks into her empty diner, and a wedding reception during which the happy bride (Erica Rivas) makes a startling discovery about her just-appointed husband (Diego Gentile), has a devilish sense of playfulness. As dire and gruesome as some of the stories get, you never stop laughing, and there isn’t a weak link in the bunch. Szifrón keeps the pace moving at a fast clip, so the tales don’t overstay their welcome, and even at two hours, the movie feels too short: It leaves you wanting more. Wild Tales reminds you how fun and satisfying payback can be, at least when things work out in your favor. Just don’t go getting any ideas.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Oscar Martínez, Erica Rivas, Walter Donado, Julieta Zylbelberg, Diego Gentile, Rita Cortese.
Writer-director: Damián Szifrón.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 122 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, crude humor, violence, gore, adult themes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Plays at 7 p.m. March 6 at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Opens March 20 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and O Cinema Miami Beach.