Anthology films are usually a mixed bag, and that’s the case with “Wild Tales,” a collection of six segments, all dealing with revenge, from Argentine writer-director Damian Szifron. To make matters worse, Szifron miscalculates by starting the film off with its best piece, a tight, energetic little vignette called “Pasternak,” set for the most part on a crowded airplane, and it can’t help sliding downhill from there. But the overall quality of the storytelling is high enough that the film as a whole is well worth seeing.
After “Pasternak,” in which a model named Isabel (Maria Marull) boards a plane on her way to an assignment and strikes up a conversation with another passenger, a music critic named Salgado (Dario Grandinetti). It turns out that they both know a fellow named Gabriel Pasternak, and it turns out they’re not the only ones.
Next up is “The Rats,” in which Moza (Julieta Zylberberg), a waitress at a roadside diner, recognizes Cuenca (Cesar Bordon), the only customer on a rainy night, as the thug who drove her father to suicide. Hearing that, beefy cook Cocinera (Rita Cortese) advises her to poison the guy. Moza refuses, but things nonetheless go awry, especially after Cuenca’s son shows up and starts caging fries from his father’s plate.
“Road to Hell,” the third entry, starts when Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), an impatient guy in a sleek sports car, insults Mario (Walter Donado), a brute in a slow-moving truck. When Diego’s tire goes out and Mario pulls up beside him, it’s not long before violence breaks out, with some “Duel”-quality action.
In “Bombita,” Ricardo Simon plays a demolition engineer named Simon, whose car is towed while he’s picking up his daughter’s birthday cake. His refusal to accept the seizure of the vehicle as legal leads to the collapse of his marriage and the loss of his job, leading him to seek vengeance against a corrupt system.
Official corruption is also at the core of “The Bill,” which begins with Santiago (Alan Daicz) returning home in tears after a hit-and-run accident that left a pregnant driver in jeopardy. His wealthy father Mauricio (Oscar Martinez) summons his lawyer (Osmar Nunez) for advice, and before long he’s facing demands for bribes from the lawyer, the prosecutor (Diego Velazquez) and his groundskeeper Casero (German de Silva).
Finally there’s “Till Death Do Us Part,” in which Romina (Erica Rivas) discovers at her extravagant wedding reception that her new husband Ariel (Diego Gentile) is having an affair with one of the guests. The newlyweds dance to “The Blue Danube,” but the waltz soon turns into a considerably more furious dance, involving lots of screaming and threats. This is Spain, however, and though there’s lots of debris on the floor at the end, the denouement is not as grim as one might expect.
It’s notable that the episodes get progressively longer, and as they do they become increasingly overextended. Still, each of them has its moments—especially the darkly comic ones that only “The Bill” eschews—and they’re all expertly staged by Szifron, with kudos especially going to his work with cinematographer Javier Julia in “Road to Hell.” None of the roles calls for anything exceptional, but all the cast more than meet the requirements, though Rivas does come on awfully strong. All is well on the technical side, as befits a piece in which the Almodovars served among the producers.
Apart from “Pasternak,” these tales aren’t all that wild. Though the inventiveness tends to run down as the film runs on, however, Szifron’s sextet remains intriguing to the end.