Getting Even

By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

A Commentary & Review of “WILD TALES”
A Film by Damián Szifrón
Comedy-Drama-Thriller - R, 122 min. Argentine

Synopsis: Inequality, injustice and the demands of the world we live in cause stress and depression for many people. Most face them on bended knee - but some of them explode. This is a film about those people. Comprising six unrelated stories that share a common theme, Wild Tales is a series of vignettes about revenge and what it means to lose control.  This film was our Mountain Shadow show in July, 2015.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

It has been said one can marvel at the depths to which we are sometimes willing to sink in order to seek revenge. It can be sweet, but the pleasure short-lived. If one survives long enough, a bitter aftertaste is often the result. 

But what if one has been unjustly wronged? In such a case, retribution would appear justified. With retributive justice, the offender is said to pay a price for their misdeeds. The punishment should fit the crime, we say. Lex talionis (‘an eye for an eye’) is an ancient legal concept that is still fully operative today. But when is enough enough? And when is that thin line crossed between justifiable retribution and unbridled vengeance?

Wild Tales is about people not unlike the rest of us, who just take the kinds of secret fantasies we all might entertain, and cross over to a darker, vengeful side. It’s a black comedy that’s rated ‘R’ for a good reason. But the ‘r’ doesn’t stand for ‘restricted,’ but rather quite the opposite. It stands for unrestricted revenge.  

The film opens immediately with the very first tale. In “Pasternak,” the protagonist who never appears in the scene finds a way to more than even the score with everyone who’s ever wronged him. 

NOTE: While this film was made in 2014, it was only widely released shortly after a news event just last March that was eerily similar. After objections were raised in Great Britain, the British Film Institute issued this statement: “Wild Tales is a work of fiction, and any similarities with real events is an unintentional and regrettable coincidence.”  Following that dispute, others have identified similar real life events that bear a striking similarity to all of these six fictional tales. 

In the second episode, “Rats,” a timid waitress in a roadside diner is no match for a rude customer who turns out to be a villainous character from the past who ruined her life.  But the cook has no problem dishing it out, regardless of the consequences.

In “Road to Hell,” anyone who has ever participated in a mild form of road rage will initially relate. The conclusion drawn by the government investigator viewing the disastrous end result, however, is perhaps one of the funniest lines in this dark comedy And, the moral to this tale? The road to hell is paved with bad, not good, intentions!  

In “The Deal,” a wealthy patriarch tries to shield his son from the consequences of the young man’s own tragic mistake, by means of corruption, money, power and influence, and the manipulation of others. The corruption is systemic with consequences that are self-destructive for all involved, sparing only the one who’s honest enough to acknowledge his guilt.

“Bombista” is the would-be fantasy for every motorist who has ever gotten an unwarranted parking ticket, and the indifference of an indifferent bureaucracy that only turns a deaf ear. The only difference? Most of us lack the professional demolition expertise to back up our feeble pleas.

Finally, the film’s last tale brings us “Till Death Do Us Part.”  We’ve all been the extras in just such a formula nuptial playbook. It appears to be the picture-perfect wedding, until suspicion and jealousy, betrayal, rage and revenge become the uninvited guests. The bride then leads us on what the filmmaker calls “an extended psychotic breakdown.” Finally, passion triumphs over rage, as if the two become almost indistinguishable. Amidst the rubble and remains of the wedding reception, all’s well that ends well. Whew!

More often than not with this film, the viewer doesn’t know whether to grimace, cringe or laugh. But let the dust settle a bit after each of these separate tales and you end up with an acerbic collection of very human tales that make you pause, take a deep breath, and ponder.  jb

The film’s opening credits only roll after the startling end of the first tale. The actors names are superimposed over photos of various animals that include a fierce looking bird of prey, a shark, a buck, a gorilla, an alligator with open jaws, a grizzly, etc. 
Finally the title scrolls up, RELATOS  SALVAJES (Wild Tales). Mr. Szifrón comments:

“Why Wild Tales? I would say that at a certain point, every protagonist of every story finds himself or herself in a primitive, unfamiliar place, having to survive both physically and emotionally, needing to turn to his or her insticts, or the most basic impulses. They need to cross the fine line between civilization and barbarism.

I like to think of the wild as not just something negative, or something civilization needs to protect us from, but also something we are. Deep down we are animals.  We all have an animal hidden inside us, waiting to find a way to burst out and run away. In this movie, the characters fulfill that fantasy. Where the rest of us would restrain ourselves or get depressed, these characters spring to action.

If there is a central theme to all of the stories, it is the pleasure of losing control,” says the filmmaker. “Giving in to paths of destruction that can be both terrifying and liberating.”
                                                                                                                                 Damián Szifrón