Telluride 2014 Review: ‘Wild Tales’

The big buzz movie of Telluride was the Argentine-Spanish dark comedy Wild Tales. How big was the buzz? They cancelled a screening of Birdman to add one last showing of Wild Tales in the festival’s biggest theater. And deservedly. Wild Tales is a hoot. Birdman will be fine. That Keaton guy is going places. 

Wild Tales is an anthology of six stories connected by the theme of revenge. Since they’re shorts, I don’t want to go into synopses because the plot summary is pretty much the whole story. However, the structures and satisfaction of each story is consistent so I can analyze it. 

Each story unfolds concisely, establishing the characters and situation, building up the tensions and some laughter along the way. In such a short screen time, we barely know these characters but we relate to them. All the victims are pretty much A-holes who deserve it. If the violence that befalls them is a bit extreme, it’s just fantasy. The first three stories build in intensity and extremity, even scatology. Writer/director Damian Szifron shoots each story really well in limited spaces.

Like any anthology, there’s some unevenness, but fortunately I can say there are no total duds in Wild Tales. These stories are just better in short form. The longer it gets, the more convoluted they become and the audience has too much time to think of more reasonable alternatives than the characters are capable of. An extremely violent revenge against petty injustices is funnier when it gets right to the point.

The fourth story is the most frustrating, because the protagonist is technically justified, but he’s such a negligent fuck up that he’s wasting his energy on a petty crusade. We may all wish someone would stick it to traffic cops, but I guess wasting time on a nuisance just isn’t funny to me. Still, that segment as a good payoff.

The fifth story is also too long but has a poignant message the unforeseen consequences of avoiding true justice. Fortunately, Wild Tales ends with a bang. The sixth story is about a woman who bombs her own wedding, figuratively, and she bombs real hard. The final act is unpredictable, and Szifron plays with our expectations from the previous shorts, so even four and five were setting us up for this big finish. 

This is neither here nor there, but in the context of the anthology genre, it is interesting that Szifron committed to six entirely separate stories. I have no problem when anthologies give their stories subtle overlaps like Short Cuts and Pulp Fiction, but it’s not a requirement. I don’t think it would have hurt Wild Tales either, or maybe they did overlap and I didn’t notice. I blame the altitude. 

It’s nice to see a surprise film like Wild Tales outshine some of the high profile films at Telluride, but now it’s time to taper the expectations once Wild Tales finally comes to you. Yes, it was a standout film that deserves the attention of hungry audiences looking for something different. Hopefully that is enough to push it into some theaters. It already has Sony Pictures Classics distributing. When it finally comes around to you, don’t think of it as the Telluride hit that snubbed Birdman. Just thank all of this exposure for bringing it to you, and enjoy something a little different.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


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