Revenge, we are told by Dorothy Parker, is a dish best served cold. But Argentine director Damián Szifron serves it brilliantly hot and steamy, ferociously and poignantly, with sides of sex, action, scatology, love, pain and regret. Szifron's Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) is black humor at its best... wildly entertaining, but ultimately morally instructive.
Szifron serves up six deftly crafted vignettes. An airline flight, a case of road rage, a hit and run accident, a car towed, a roadside diner and a wedding. Each episode resolves around an injustice, an insult, a hurt, wrong or tragedy. Each screams for retribution but whispers restraint. As the characters work toward resolution, they sometimes learn along the road. And the road is an appropriate place for them to work out their situations. Just as we spend much of our time in transit, the characters' movements become the arc of their resolution.
As these characters take action, their movements yield different views of them, their motivations and the consequences of their actions. Szifron develops his characters through the crucible of their reactions to life's outrages. Which driver's actions are appropriate as they use the road to joust? Who is the ultimate offended party at the wedding? Is it right for us to impose our own idea of justice or shield the guilty? In any situation, how much should one respond to perceived wrong and how much anger management should be exerted? The turns in these roads come fast and unexpectedly, painfully and humorously.
It is only with the last episode that Szifron reaches the end of the road to give us his message about revenge, anger, justice and resolution. The hope is that by this time the audience is listening, as well as laughing.
The bravura cast is more than up to the trip. Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Darío Grandinetti, Nancy Dupláa, Osmar Núñez, César Bordón and their supporters quickly, smartly and plausibly sketch out this world. Javier Julia's lush cinematography runs with ease from picturesque dangerous mountain roads to the claustrophobic urban jungle transported by Gustavo Santaolalla's scintillating score.
Both critics and audiences have been moved by "Wild Tales." Easily the most popular film in Argentina, it has traveled well. In the United States it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and at Cannes nominated for the Palme d'Or where it received a ten minute standing ovation. For a film of black humor, director Damián Szifrón may indeed have the last laugh.