‘Wild Tales’ is an inconsistent but mostly compelling anthology film

An extreme moment from one of Wild Tales‘ six stories.

Three and a half stars

Wild Tales Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas. Directed by Damián Szifrón. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Darkly comic anthology film Wild Tales makes for an unlikely Oscar nominee (it lost this year’s award for Best Foreign Language Film to Ida), but the Academy deserves credit for bringing Argentinean writer-director Damián Szifrón’s film to a wider audience. A more sophisticated, less gory version of movies like the V/H/S series, Wild Tales features six segments that start with mundane events before building to violence, betrayal and (sometimes) death.

Although Wild Tales is the work of a single filmmaker, it’s as inconsistent as most anthology films, with a couple of segments that end in disappointing anticlimaxes. The best segments are the first and last, which are the shortest and longest, respectively. The opener is a simple, Twilight Zone-style gag about the passengers on a plane realizing they have something very unfortunate in common, while the closer is a lengthy, slow-burn look at a wedding that descends into chaos and anger.

Those two stories demonstrate Szifrón’s versatility: He can deliver a stylish, nasty punchline, but he can also construct well-rounded characters whose despicable actions come from understandable places. Even in the segments whose storytelling stalls, Szifrón’s visual style is fluid and dynamic, with precise framing that accentuates a joke or a thrill, or sometimes both at once. The deft mix of tones keeps Wild Tales fresh and surprising, and whenever a story seems to be losing momentum, the movie switches gears and presents something new.

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