Wild Tales Channels The Absurdist Drama of Iñárritu & Almodóvar

Damián Szifron, who dabbled in short film before his debut feature, El Fondo Del Mar, was released in 2003, has quickly asserted himself as a god among film directors. Wild Tales marks the third–and best–film from the writer-director thus far. Its preposterous (yet somehow completely true to the insanities of life) plotlines are divided into six stories, each one as incongruous and entertaining as the last. 

Promo poster for Wild Tales
Promo poster for Wild Tales

The first segment of the movie immediately channels Almodóvar’s 2013 plane farce, I’m So Excited!, with two strangers marveling over the discovery that they both know a man named Gabriel Pasternak. It soon becomes apparent that everyone on the aircraft somehow knows Pasternak and slighted him in some way at various points in his life. The flight attendant then comes out to inform everyone that Pasternak is the pilot on the plane and that he’s locked her out of the cockpit. Pasternak’s ex-therapist, who dismissed Pasternak after raising his fees, tries to reason with Pasternak through the door, assuring him that everything that’s happened to him is his parents’ fault, who put far too much pressure on him from an early age. It is at this point that Szifron cuts to the exterior of the plane, which is about to crash right into Pasternak’s home, as well as his parents who are sitting outside reading. So begins the series of wild tales.

Having the epiphany that everyone knows Pasternak on this plane
Having the epiphany that everyone knows Pasternak on this plane

Next is “The Rats,” an obvious double meaning for the skeezy gangster/aspiring politician who comes into a remote restaurant and encounters a waitress who instantly recognizes him as the man who harassed her father about his debts to him to the point of prompting suicide. Re-telling this story to the cook in the kitchen, the woman insists that they kill this monster with rat poison. The waitress declines the offer at vengeance, but the chef goes ahead and does it anyway, not anticipating that the gangster’s son would be coming in to share in the food with his father. When the waitress tries to take the plate away from her enemy, he gets verbally and physically violent with her, setting the chef off and inciting her to gut him with her butcher knife. Thus, the lunacy of the tales continues to sustain itself.

Plotting death by rat poison
Plotting death by rat poison

The third vignette, “The Strongest,” tells a classic plight of man versus man in the survival of the fittest. Starting out with a wealthy, somewhat prim man named Diego speedily driving through the desert in his expensive sports car, he is then forced to slow down his pace thanks to an old car plodding along in front of him. When Diego finally passes it, he flips off Mario, a burly, obviously poorer man, and calls him a “redneck motherfucker.” This outburst soon comes back to haunt Diego, as his car gets a flat and Mario catches up to exact his revenge by smashing the windshield and subsequently shitting and pissing on the windshield as Diego watches from inside. Mario’s utterance of the word “pussy” as he walks away is enough to push Diego over the edge, who finishes fixing his flat and proceeds to attempt running Mario over. The end result is mutual death, assumed to be a “crime of passion” by the police, who find the two skeletons of the men holding each other in an exploded car.

Mario, out for Diego's blood
Mario, out for Diego’s blood

The fourth tale, “Little Bomb,” showcases the headaches and frustrations of bureaucracy as an engineer and demolitions expert named Simón Fischer (Ricardo Darín) tries to fight a parking ticket he received even though the area marked didn’t delineate that it was a towing area. Trying his best to calmly and rationally explain what happened to the fee collector, Simón is appalled by the man’s callousness toward his situation and ends up missing his daughter’s birthday party as a result of all the time spent arguing. His ex-wife chides him for being unable to take things in stride, for always trying to turn everything into a cause. Her words go over his head as, the next day, he goes to a different ticket fee office to plead his case. The bureaucrat’s similar coldness leads Simón to smash the window in with a fire extinguisher as everyone else in line cheers him on. He is subsequently arrested and fired from his job as a result of the bad publicity. The incident also causes custody of his daughter to be revoked due to him being unable to make child support payments. Fed up with buying into the system, Simón deliberately parks his car in a towing zone and plants a bomb in it so that it will explode just enough to cause a fright without actually harming anyone. Although Simón is again arrested, his act is deemed heroic by the public–vindicating all he sacrificed in order to make his point.

Trying to make bureaucracy see reason
Trying to make bureaucracy see reason

The second to last wild tale centers around the foolish mistake of an affluent youth who has clearly been given everything his entire life. Thanks to a drunken or drug-addled haze, the teenager ran over a pregnant woman and left the scene without getting out of the car. When he arrives to his stately home, the TV is already swarming with reports of the incident. Crying through his confession, he tells his parents what he’s done. His father, Mauricio (Oscar Martinez), immediately hatches a strategy to ensure his son’s safety and innocence in the eyes of the law. Involving his longtime family lawyer in the cover-up, Mauricio asks his groundskeeper to take the fall for the hit and run in exchange for $500,000 once he gets out of prison. Mildly hesitant, the groundskeeper takes the deal. The prosecutor is then allowed entry into their house to question his suspect. Upon examining the scene and the car, the prosecutor instantly determines that it couldn’t have been the groundskeeper who was at the wheel. Figuring out that it’s Mauricio’s son who was responsible, the prosecutor agrees to go in on the cover-up for his own price as well. Mauricio’s lawyer, too, wants a piece of the monetary pie, insisting that since he’s brokering the deal, he deserves $500,000 as well. Flabbergasted by the amounts being demanded from all three sides (the prosecutor allegedly wants one million dollars and now the groundskeeper asks for an apartment for his family upon learning what the prosecutor is getting), Mauricio calls the whole thing off when he finds out his lawyer lied about the amount the prosecutor wanted in order to hoard the extra for himself. Not caring what happens to his son anymore, the three parties involved are suddenly all too eager to accommodate whatever amount he’s willing to pay. It all highlights the vulture-like nature that shines through in people when they see that someone has money. The surprise twist at the end, however, proves that one is better off sticking with what they’ve got in their bank account instead of trying to make it burgeon through means that are capitalizing and “easy.”

Mauricio eyes the groundskeeper to take the fall for his son's error
Mauricio eyes the groundskeeper to take the fall for his son’s error

The final and arguably most wild of all the stories in Szifron’s sweeping and stunning exploration of how rife life is with drama and incongruity is “Until Death Do Us Part.” The story begins with a joyous wedding and a couple that happily introduces itself in their new state of Mr. and Mrs. to the guests at the reception by dancing to “Titanium” by Sia. This ebullient mood gradually deteriorates after the bride, Romina (Erica Rivas), sees her husband, Ariel (Diego Gentile), flirting with one of his co-workers. Suspicious of the exchange, she finds her cell phone to call a number she had saved from months ago–a number that was, according to Ariel–that of his guitar teacher’s. But when she dials the number, the co-worker’s phone rings. Heartbroken and angered, Romina confronts Ariel about it as they dance. He admits to the affair, sending Romina into a hysterical frenzy that leads her to the rooftop. It is there that one of the kitchen staff members comforts her, so well, in fact, that Romina decides to sleep with him right then and there as part of her retaliation. When Ariel encounters this scene, Romina threatens him that she’ll make his life a living hell from now on, as they’re legally married and there is nothing he can do about it. So horrified by her dark aura, Ariel vomits after she’s done spewing her threats at him. Romina then goes back downstairs to restart the party, even going so far as to dance with Ariel’s co-worker, swinging her round and round to the point of tossing her against the mirrored glass of the wall and severely injuring her. Suddenly. all the guests realize something is terribly wrong between Romina and Ariel and the party takes a somber turn. Ariel, whose mother is clearly overly attached, takes him in her arms to console him, and they cry together over the catastrophe. Romina balks at them and tells the videographer to film the ridiculous spectacle. This causes Ariel’s mom to shove her against the cake in a fury. While one would assume that this debacle might foretell a swift and mutually agreed upon divorce, the conclusion is more unexpected than anything else that’s happened in the movie.

A wedding in decline
A wedding in decline

In spite of Wild Tales being merely Szifron third film, the writer-director shows incredible skill and dexterity for the craft, rivaling the delightful improbability of his Spanish language contemporaries, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Pedro Almodóvar–a challenging duo to compete with. If Szifron keeps it up, he’s sure to be placed firmly among their ranks.