A welcome gust of fresh and darkly funny air from Argentinian director Damián Szifron (Tiempo de valientes) blew through Cannes Friday night in the form of “Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales),” a frequently hilarious series of shorts tied to a general theme of revenge.
The first starts off rather innocently as a beautiful model boards a plane and strikes up a conversation with a music critic. The two discover they share something in common which is not unusual, but then it turns out each one of the plane’s passengers are linked in the same way. The nature of that connection and the consequences of it deliver some of the film’s biggest laughs because you’re still not quite sure what to expect.
This opening number sets the tone for the rest of the film so the degree of surprise is lessened, but it’s no less entertaining. The best story besides the first involves a tale of supremely righteous road rage while another revolves around a parking ticket and an attempt to fight City Hall by Ricardo Darin (the star of Argentinian Oscar winner The Secret in their Eyes). Another story involving the cover up of a hit and run accident is more dryly ironic than hilarious while the last one about a bride who discovers some unwelcome facts about her husband on their wedding day is downright dark.
As with most omnibus films, some of the shorts are better than others, but none of them are less than good and two of them are truly great. The photography of each is slick and lively and the constant shift from one story from the next keeps things interesting throughout. None of them last long enough to wear out their welcome.
So many films at serious-minded film festivals are kind of dour and often emotionally draining, “Relatos salvajes” was an unexpectedly welcome relief. It works on a purely entertaining level, but all of the stories work together as a kind of treatise on class, on the sexes and on the general frustrations of the modern world. The abundant humor is a welcome sugar coating to what is at heart kind of a bitter pill.
Friday’s screening was the world premiere of the film which is entered in competition for the Palme d’Or. It opens in Argentina on August 14th. There is no US date set, but it’s being distributed by Warner Bros. and I would be surprised if this doesn’t become a cult midnight hit at film festivals all around the country. One of my favorites of the festival so far, it’s the kind of foreign film that practically demands cross-over success.