I am regularly disappointed by the output of Film Four’s TV channel. So often it just seems to be endless repeats of the X Men films and Vin Diesel led rubbish. So when something different comes along these days, it really is a pleasant surprise. Relatos Salvajes (aka Wild Tales, Argentina 2014) is just that.
The film is a collection of six short films, bearing no relation to each other, with no crossover of stories or characters. The glue binding it all together instead seems to be dark comedy and perhaps poetic justice.
The opening film is based on a large commercial flight, where a charming middle aged professor gets talking to an equally pleasant fashion model. Within minutes they’ve discovered they share a mutual acquaintance. Was it mere luck that brought them together, or kismet? It would be a shame to spoil it for you.
The other stories are also based not quite in the every day, but certainly in the bad but plausible category. There are annoying late night cafe patrons, a vehicle owner who becomes a victim of a ruthless car towing company, road rage merchants, inexperienced drivers getting bailed out by parents and a wedding with a restless bride and groom.
With Pedro Almodovar as one of the producers, there’s always a chance that domestic bliss will be challenged and that the mundane will be portrayed in epic terms, all with beautiful, crisp staging and normal people going a little bit crazy. If you’re a loyal fan of his, then you won’t go far wrong here.
But if that endorsement means nothing to you or worse yet, turns you off, it really shouldn’t. The director Damian Szifron has a long, creditable body of work in his native Argentina, many projects of which have been based in the short film format.
It really is an impressive skill to convey a story over a shortened duration. The key thing I noticed here was that while I felt the characters were important enough to care about the story, I was quite prepared to see anything happen to them, all for the benefit of the payoff. It is often a mistake I feel to put your character on some kind of impregnable pedestal.
As a writer, you are going to end up in a cul de sac of predictable behaviour, simply because you have decided that your hero needs to please everyone else. Here both Szifron and his team of writers have collectively nurtured characters who are sleazy, selfish, cowardly, stubborn, psychotic, greedy and in more than one case very much an arsehole.
In these stories too, the director doesn’t seem afraid to criticize what many people might see as perfectly reasonable. Excessive wealth is questioned but so too is extortion. Would your stereotyped beliefs allow for the fact that some men can’t change a tire properly? Or what about over exuberant wedding parties that have become new normal and that the newlyweds find comfort in the discomfort of others? it really has some good thought-provoking stuff in here.
That it is framed as well as it is, probably owes a lot to the financial backing it received. But I for one, would love to see more of this type of short film anthology style coming out of Ireland.
And the fact that it’s an international film with subtitles ought to figure positively in your decision. A good habit should be to watch something in a foreign language at least once a week. When I stick to my own rule here, I rarely regret it.
Credit to Rory Cashin on Joe.ie, .never would have heard of it but for his recommendation. Keep an eye on Film Four listings for a repeat screening.