[Why are foreign film posters sideways? Why do they write their date backwards? All this and more explained in the film.]
I didn't see the trailer before going so I had no idea what to expect that it was nominated for an Oscar, produced by Pedro Almodóvar and starring Ricardo Darín, who was in the very good and Oscar-winning El secreto de sus ojos, being remade into English this year. The Twitter account advertises more than 3,900,000 admissions sold. What's popular must be good, I guess.
Relatos salvajes, or Wild Tales, is six unconnected short films presented seamlessly in one package, each with a completely different cast but sharing the director, Damián Szifrón, and an Argentine setting (side note: I recently learned some people pronounced this word to rhyme with TIME, when it clearly can only rhyme TEEN). The first short before the credits is about a woman who boards a plane to find that all the passengers share a special connection. Without spoiling anything I will say the story shares an unfortunate resemblance to the recent Germanwings news item.
[A still from the most satisfyingly-violent segment. All the segments had names, which was news to me since there were absolutely no intertitles in the film.]
The only common thematic link between the six segments was violent revenge. A waitress encounters the man who drove her father to suicide many years ago. She is counseled by the cook to exact violent revenge. A man feels slighted by everyone he encounters in life. He gets violent revenge (we see this from the perspective of the revengees). An engineer is pushed to the limit by getting his car towed one too many times so he gets his revenge on the tow operator. Otherwise Szifrón is very lazy in terms of ideas. His film is not a polemic against the way the rich treat the poor as expendable, as in a segment where a rich man convinces his gardener to take the blame for a fatal accident and he is all too willing to go along, for a price. It's not an argument in favor of or against getting yours; at least of the shorts end with the complete incineration of the vengeance-seeker. There are several references to the corruption endemic to Argentine society that leads to gangsters running for mayor and fraudulent parking tickets and murder investigations swept under the rug but this is of as little interest to me as picking apart the political subtext of A Serbian Film.
[This cake topper serves witness to tragedies no mere mortal could endure.]
The individual segments are rather uneven, there's always a bit of black, smoky humor, like a bit of chorizo that's been fried too long, but at least two of them start out very strong just to dissippate their tension in premature endings, only for this time to be wasted on a drawn-out vengeful wedding sequence at the very end that will redefine 'bridezilla' for the ages. There's a visually clever gimmick of rigging the camera to a moving object like a door that's used a few times, I think. Otherwise I can't think of any reason to watch this movie except that it's probably a bit more low-key than Furious 7, and Argentines have charming but intelligible accents and it may very well be the only foreign-language film playing at your local theater. The movie would probably have been more fun if all the stories were cut together to form one coherent narrative film.
[A much better film along the same lines.]
A much better anthology that aims to diagnose a national malaise is 2009's Tales From The Golden Age which I absolutely guarantee will move you deeply and, what do you know, they both have 'tales' in their titles.
Also I forgot to mention that someone poops on a car windshield towards the beginning of the film and I'm pretty sure some old couple walked out after that (I heard mention of cuantas groserías and so forth), which is of course, only the second worst thing to happen to a windshield in movie history.