Monday, March 09, 2015

Wild Tales

Today in funny coincidences: I've got a co-worker who spent part of her youth in the small town where I grew up, and while that is not completely unlikely - North Yarmouth, Maine is a small town (my graduating class was about 100 students, but kids from Cumberland, Chebeague Island, Pownal, and Durham probably made up 2/3 of that), but plenty will be drawn to Boston. It's just that she got here by way of Argentina, and actually knows a couple of people in the cast.

Read no significance into this. After all, when you see 300 movies a year, the math makes a case of knowing someone who knows someone almost inevitable. Still, it's neat.

Also neat: Wild Tales is the rare movie to be built as a deliberate collection of short stories by a single author. I'm not sure how often it happens in other media, aside from being so entrenched in popular music that doing things another way is a massive departure. I'm having a hard time thinking of any movies built this way aside from Heavy Metal and Creepshow (other anthologies put different directors together, while things like Pulp Fiction generally have overlapping stories and characters). It seems like something you could do in comics, although the question of how you define authorship pops up there - does Alan Moore working with a different artist on each feature in America's Best Comics count, presuming that the original intent was not to have them cross over (which is almost certainly not the case)? I recall a more recent project along those lines, done as a flipbook, although the specifics else me. It seems like it might be done more often in print, although you'd have to establish some ground rules about entries being published as separate short stories.

I'm guessing it's rare, which is a shame, because I have to imagine that a lot of filmmakers might have a lot of fun putting together a movie the same way that you'd make a record album. It's easy to see the logistics of why not, but that just makes Wild Tales an even bigger treat.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 7 March 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

There aren't a whole lot of movies like Wild Tales that get made - most anthologies are built around multiple filmmakers taking on a topic, and when it is the work of a single voice, there is usually something going on to tie them together into a single unit. It makes sense; people are more likely to judge the whole by the portion that disappointed them unless there is a reason to consider the good ones separately. Unless, that is, it's a movie where every segment is as universally excellent as what Damián Szifrón comes up with here.

The stories themselves are presented separately: A man and a woman meet on a plane, only to find out about a common element in their past. Another meeting occurs in a restaurant, with a waitress recognizing the man who destroyed her family. A driver insults the man he passes, only to have a flat tire a few kilometers later. Anger at a parking ticket upends a man's life. A hit-and-run driver's wealthy father hatches a scheme to keep his son out of jail. And, finally, a woman discovers her partner's infidelity at their wedding reception. No framing device, no common characters, and if any background element recurs, you will likely have to be looking for minutia to see it.

There's almost a theme of revenge running through the entire package, but Szifrón leaves that out of one story, keeping this from being "the revenge movie". Oh, it's there, and almost necessary - with each story getting roughly twenty minutes, it makes sense to start with something already in place that, if it doesn't kick things into action right away, doesn't have to smolder for very long or hide. Szifrón lays his cards on the table fairly quickly in every segment, and even once he's had the movie take a turn, he's more likely let things keep going in that direction with more detail rather than switch things up. It's a canny move; with five big shifts already built into the feature, anything more might just make things feel too random for the audience, or leave them trying to figure out what was happening in one story while the film has moved on to something else.

Full review on EFC

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