Except when vampires and zombies parade across the screen, most modern cinematic fairy tales have happy endings. Not so with the Argentine film Wild Tales, which harks back to the primitive violence of Grimm’s or Aesop’s original fables. It is currently playing at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.
Screenwriter and director Damián Szifron spins a potent web of satire and violence in his six short stories of revenge run amuck, which also includes the work of celebrated Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustin as producers of the film. Wild Tales earned a Best Foreign Film nomination at this year’s Oscars, as well as one last year for the Cannes Palme d’Or, with many wins elsewhere.
Unlike vampire and zombie films, Wild Tales sets its six shorts in a world of real characters and settings. Pasternak, the first, takes place almost exclusively in the cabin of a jetliner and ends up uncomfortably close to the recent plane tragedy in France. A runway model and a classical music critic in the story strike up a flirtatious, across-the-aisle conversation, and discover that they have in common an acquaintance with Pasternak, the model’s ex-boyfriend and the critic’s former student, whose work he savaged. As their chat continues, other passengers who overhear it chime in. They know Pasternak, too. And guess who has locked himself in the pilot’s cabin and taken over the controls?
The rainy set for The Rats is a roadside café, where the one customer is a rude and arrogant loan shark who inspired the suicide of the café waitress’s father. When the cook suggests lacing the man’s food with rat poison, the distressed young server resists, but the cook has fewer scruples and more of a yen for revenge. In Road to Hell, the smug, self-satisfied owner of a new Audi has no qualms about giving the finger to a bedraggled driver of a clunker and calling him a redneck before zooming by. Road rage goes postal, after Mr. Audi gets a flat tire near a conveniently precipitous bluff by a highway bridge.
A demolitions engineer in Bombita finds his car has been towed, not once, not twice, but three times. The fines he incurs rise higher and higher, and he faces an egregious lack of concern from recalcitrant city clerks. Bad goes to worse once his wife files for divorce and he loses his job. Indignant, he uses his professional skills to retaliate.
Particularly grim is The Bill, in which the son in an affluent family accidentally hits a pregnant woman while driving home. After the woman and her unborn baby die, the father persuades the family gardener to take the rap in exchange for a big chunk of change. Then it turns out the prosecutor wants his cut, as does the family lawyer, and so on. Last and best of all is Till Death Do Us Part, the story of a wedding from hell. After the bride discovers that her betrothed has not only cheated on her but invited his liaison partner to the wedding, she threatens more and more extreme revenge, until the nuptial celebration turns into the scene of threats, anarchy, and violence.
Mr. Szifron, who claims to have written most of the six stories while reclining in his bathtub, directs Wild Tales with a crispness and eye for tongue-in-cheek authenticity. We all have our fantasies of revenge when minor events go belly-up. Watching what happens when such fantasies become real makes these stories fun and satisfying, if a little uneven.
Wild Tales, Thursday, April 30, and Saturday, May 2, 7:30 pm; Friday, May 1, and Sunday, May 3, 4 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information on other films, see mvfilmsociety.com.