Anthology films (also known as compendium or portmanteau films) tend to be viewed with diffidence by critics, but being a life-long fan of the format (from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life to the excellent Monicelli/Fellini/Visconti/De Sica vehicle Boccaccio '70), I had very high expectations when I first heard of this Spanish-Argentinian gem being shown at Cannes last year.
Comprising of six exhilarating and at times very twisted short stories, Damián Szifron's Wild Tales explores catharsis and revenge, and the undeniable pleasure that comes with losing control. Thematically coherent, but exploring a diverse range of genres, the films begins with shorter segments (the comically dark 'Pasternak', and the more socially aware 'The Rats'), and becomes more expansive with the apocalyptic mini road movie 'Road to Hell', the Kafkaesque attack on bureaucracy that is 'Bombita' and the class melodrama of 'The Deal'. It reaches a final apotheosis with the Milos Forman-inspired (The Firemen's Ball came to mind) 'Till Death Do Us Part', an intoxicating dissection of society conventions.
Wild Tales is undoubtedly Argentine (or at least Hispanic) in flavour and tone (especially in its more outlandish, ludicrous moments), yet manages to maintain universality as it tackles subjects inequality, injustice (the director speaks of Western capitalism as a "transparent cage that reduces our sensitivity and distorts our bond with others") and plain cruelty. All characters are involved in a power struggle or other, and the violence that springs out of the confrontation, while exhilarating, hardly resolves anything, mostly leading to nihilistic devastation. The exception to this is 'Til Death Do Us Part', where the mayhem brought about a deceived bride becomes the triumph of carnal passion over the codes of behaviour of bourgeois marriage.
The film reminded me of some of the absurdist literature I love (a touch of Pirandello's 'The Train Whistles' perhaps), but remains convincingly cinematic in the way it looks, from the emblematic title sequence (depicting predators and preys of the animal kingdom), through the production design's eye-catching details, to the disorienting camera angles. Anarchic, sometimes grotesque, and yet very substantial, Wild Tales is a film that should not be missed.
Wild Tales runs at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh, until Thursday 16 April. It will be released on DVD on 15 June.