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Film Review: Revenge Seekers Get Poetic Justice In 'Wild Tales'

Sony Pictures Classics
Erica Rivas in Wild Tales.

In contemporary movies where characters are motivated by revenge, they're usually armed with guns and bullets — and there will be blood. But director Damian Szifron's Wild Tales has a different type of arsenal.

By compressing six short films into a two-hour triumph, Szifron turns revenge into an urge that can be as hilarious as it is sinister. This Academy Award nominee from Argentina lost the Best Foreign Language Oscar to Poland's Ida, a film whose calm, contemplative nature couldn't be more different from Wild Tales' brash and buoyant effervescence.

That energy is exemplified by the first film, so short it concludes before the credits but packed with portent, as first class passengers on an airplane realize early in the flight that they've each had an unfortunate history with the pilot.

In the second film, a cook and waitress at a lowly diner serve up retribution — in the form of fried eggs, French fries and Diet Coke — to a patron who may have played a part in sending the waitress's father to prison. Next up is the bloodiest and most suspenseful film, which feels like the director's homage to the Coen Brothers: An incident of road rage on a deserted highway between two alpha males is exacerbated by tools found in most car trunks and the vehicles' proximity to a steep gorge.

Anyone who's fought with towing companies or the DMV will identify with the fourth film's protagonist, an initially docile father who has the bad luck of finding every parking space that looks legit but isn't. The fifth film is the most ethically nuanced and complex, in which the wealthy father of a teenage boy suspected in a hit-and-run proves that money can make legal trouble evaporate by convincing the family's gardener to admit that he, not the boy, was behind the wheel.

Finally, a wedding reception from hell provides a jolt of jet-black comedy. The new bride thinks she's discovered that her handsome groom's most recent phone call was to a certain female guest. Accusations, recriminations and revenge sex soon follow, as does a round of the Hora that ends with thousands of glass shards. It wraps up the package like a fable, suggesting that, in all its forms, revenge can leave victims as well as instigators ready to atone.

Wild Tales | Dir. Damian Szifron |122 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles | Playing at the Tivoli, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, 913-383-7756, and the Glenwood Arts, 3707 W. 95th Street, Overland Park, 913-642-1133.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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