Wild Tales, Argentina’s entry in Oscar’s foreign-language category this year, is a bit of an anomaly in the current movie world: an anthology that’s not a horror film. But the six short stories, linked by a theme of over-the-top, fever-dream revenge set amidst the Argentinian class system, are generally entertainingly terrifying nonetheless.
Director/writer Damián Szifrón takes a light, tongue-in-cheek tone but, at his best, he doesn’t let that undercut the tension in each of the vignettes. He grabs attention right away with the opening chapter, set aboard a doomed flight in which the escalating fear is salved by a final blast of humor.
But it’s the third story that is Wild Tales’ most effectively suspenseful. Set on a desolate stretch of Argentinian highway, it’s a duel between two warring drivers fueled by rage and machismo. Leonardo Sbaraglia is Diego, an Audi-driving yuppie upset by the slow, junky truck that won’t let him pass. Working-class Mario (Walter Donado) seems to take special delight in Diego’s increasing frustration. But what might, in most circumstances, usually end with mere shouted profanities results in something far more horrific.
Almost as effective in a more low-key way is the tale of Simon (Ricardo Darín), an explosions expert, who finds himself up against the merciless bureaucracy that is the tow-truck industry in Buenos Aires. Anyone who believes their car has ever been unfairly towed will sympathize.
The powerful also get comeuppance in two sketches: one of a rich man (Oscar Martinez) who inveigles his groundskeeper (Germán de Silva) to take the fall for his drunk-driving son; the other about a waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) who discovers her rude, demanding customer is the man who caused her family so much grief when she was a child.
At times, there’s a Pedro Aldomóvar-like quality to Wild Tales. That’s not surprising as he’s a co-producer.
Oddly, the film that closes Wild Tales is the least interesting. When a bride (Erica Rivas) discovers that her groom (Diego Gentile) has been cheating with one of the wedding guests, she decides to unleash action right there and then. The most broadly comic of the six, it ultimately falls flat, though both Rivas and Gentile have a charming chemistry.
That’s too bad, as it’s a rather unceremonious end to what had been an enjoyably wild ride.
In Spanish with English subtitles
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens March 20 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Cary Darling 817 390-7571
Director: Damian Szifron
Cast: Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Leonardo Sbaraglia
Rated: R (violence, strong language, brief sexuality)
Running time: 122 min.