Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dario Grandinetti, María Marull, Mónica Villa, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, César Bordón, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Ricardo Darin, Nancy Dupláa, Oscar Martínez, María Onetto, Érica Rivas, Diego Gentile
Written by: Damián Szifrón
Directed by: Damián Szifrón
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 122
Date: 03/06/2015

Wild Tales (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All the Rage

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Argentina's Wild Tales is a most unusual kind of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee. It's not the kind of safe, boring, reverent, upright stuff we usually get in that category. It's almost willfully crazy, simply seeking to push the edges of storytelling with a certain wicked glee. I can't imagine what might have appealed to the stuffy Oscar voters, except that they maybe recognized actor Ricardo Darin from two previous Oscar films, nominee Son of the Bride (2001) and winner The Secret in Their Eyes (2009).

The movie has six short stories. The first one is a brief prologue, wherein passengers on a plane all realize they knew someone named Pasternak, whom they had all treated badly in some way. In the second one, a waitress at a roadside restaurant recognizes a customer as a dangerous man who destroyed her family. A cook offers to put rat poison in his food.

The third is an ever-escalating road-rage battle between two motorists, one in a fast car who tries to get around a slow one, hurls an insult out the window, and then gets a flat tire. Mr. Darin stars in the fourth segment, as a demolitions expert whose car is towed when he goes to pick up his daughter's birthday cake. He attempts to fight the red tape, which causes his entire life and career to come tumbling down. This leaves him with only one option.

The fifth story is perhaps the darkest. A wealthy man's son, while driving the family car, runs over and kills a pregnant woman. The father attempts to bribe the family caretaker with a large amount of money for taking responsibility for the crime. Thus begins a kind of immoral bidding war with more demands for more bribes. The sixth story is the most epic, taking place at a wedding in which the happy bride discovers that her new husband has slept with an attractive woman, who is at the wedding. Her angry revenge eventually sends the wedding celebration into ruins.

It seems as if the general theme here is escalation. Each of the episodes begins, or began (prior to the movie), with some small, ordinary thing, an annoyance, perhaps, or a trespass. Characters react with anger, and something else piles on top of it. Anger turns to rage. Inside our brains, drenched in red, we see chaos, destruction, revenge. In real life, we rarely get to explode in rage, lash out at injustices, and get away with it. And thus, Wild Tales works in much the way a horror movie does; it allows us to vicariously experience that kind of enormous release, which we could never get away with in real life.

As sophisticated as it seems on the surface, this is a very primal sort of filmmaking. It's about the clash between civilization and the darkest, basest sides of human nature, and how the two don't always go so well together. It's a burning conflict that has existed since man first began to communicate with each other, and yet when movies try to tackle it, they are usually dismissed as vulgar or unintelligent. Wild Tales deserves congratulations for being truthful, and yet somehow transcending the Academy's taste threshold.

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