A Call of the Wild
by Aritra Dey
TLR Rating: 9 Reels.
I didn’t know when I had sat down to watch this movie that I would experience something akin to a story book reading evening. It was just like reading a paperback anthology of black comedy short-stories, written by Damián Szifron titled ‘Wild Tales’. Anthology films are a risky venture even today, where a budding crop of intellectuals have started to take their movies seriously. This Argentine mastermind caps it though, proving that the Latin American country can produce geniuses other than Maradona and Messi.
The naming of the movie couldn’t have been more appropriate in my opinion. Every single human being has an inherent streak of wildness, however docile he/she may be. The society survives only because we keep it in that way, well for most of the time anyways. We fear the compunctions, choosing instead to devote our lives to adjust for the ‘better good’. The philosophers, in their own morbid way had preached that and plastered that singular thought of peace into our systems in such a way, that any act hitherto unknown, brings about a feeling of irrational dread and revulsion. A thousand and one reasons are there to drive us off our hinges, willing us to cross the line which we spend our lives drawing around us, but we never do it, as society’s norms don’t permit it. We go about, venting out our frustrations on the wrong people, some innocent listeners who happen to be at the wrong place and the wrong time. Doing so we create and recreate that old Latin saying of ‘Ordo ab Chao’. But what if we crossed that line of ‘decency’, which we have so consciously drawn around us? What if we turned our backs on the cat-calling rules set down before us? What if we sought to abide by Hammurabi’s code? Damian Szifron answers these questions in his own macabre manner, throwing a shadowy laugh as he narrates six tales on man becoming wild.
He starts off by narrating the tale of Pasternak- a man who has been snubbed at every point of his life, decided to take all of the miscreants including the girl who had cheated on him with his best friend, that best friend and a professor who had failed him after a public humiliation, into a plane, and have it crashed in his parents’ garden. This short contains the best shots of the film, especially the scene where the old couple look up to see a behemoth rushing towards them. That shot alone will make the viewer yelp with shock. The tension was well mounted in this story, the threads connected at the right moment and the climax was not delayed. Short film aspirants should take notes off ‘Pasternak’.
‘Rats’ is comparatively less full of nerve jostling excitement but delves into the complexity of human psyche. The main motto of this film has been expertly symbolized through the two female leads. The young waitress is the actual social man, refusing to take up any real action against the wrongs done to him, choosing instead to vent out the frustration on someone else. The old lady is the slumbering beast which resides in us. The events that follow show exactly what would happen if we let that beast out. The beast doesn’t stop, even though conscience interferes. It is taken away in the end and the docile man is left intact, inwardly thankful. Damian expresses this pivotal theme in a road side diner with evil in the guise of a loan shark and conscience appearing as his son.
A highway brawl of egos would be decide who ‘The Strongest’ is. This piece combines the visualization of class discrimination with an ironic climax. The shabby car driver Mario is the perfect embodiment of the worker class and the suited Diego flashes the arrogance of the wealthy upper class. The two engage in a literal fist fight, transgressing the years of cold wars, using their symbols of class, and culminate in a tie when an explosion destroys them both. We see a hint of the class struggle prevalent in Argentina and in many countries around the globe. The laborers don’t generally revolt but when they do, history marks them as tyrants and Damian has craftily shown that. Mario will repel the viewer with him being guilty of not making way for Diego in the first place, defecating and urinating on the wind shield and then cracking it, thereby seemingly prolonging what was initially a war of cusses. The modern world chooses to ignore this ever existent feud in its race of achieving global peace. That is the perfect irony. The patrol truck and the policemen who arrive on the scene after the blast are the denizens of this world, concluding that the charred bodies are those of lovers, destroyed in an act of passion. Irony is a powerful form of expression and Damian utilizes it to a ruthless extent.
‘Bombita’ carries forward the tone of oppression, depicting the life of a common middle class man, who after work, returns home to his family. An explosive expert by profession, Simon Fischer, en route to his daughter’s birthday celebrations, discovers that his car was towed while purchasing the all-important birthday cake. Damian throws a punch at the annoyingly devised laws which do more harm to the common man than good, and finely criticizes the local government for the blatant misuse of it. They say that justice is blind, and indeed it is so, with the innocent deriving so much fairness from it as a hardened criminal. An Indian would empathize with this segment surely as almost all of our population, has at some point of time or the other, been forced to face the ordeals of a government office. Simon argues that he was not at fault and justifies his claim rightly. This gains him a delay for his daughter’s birthday and the looks of disgust from his wife. A trailer of the film’s theme follows, as Simon smashes glass at the tow truck office, and the results are exactly why normal man tends to keep his anger in his pocket. Simon gets thrown off from his job and his wife and daughter seek divorce from him. The viewer could sense the eventual storm of outburst but its range was mildly surprising. Bombita doesn’t kill anyone, his cleverly disguised bomb only destroys the trailers in the yard. The burst of joy happens when the family reunion happens in the jail, with people actually supporting the bomber for exploding out his emotions, highlighting the society’s hypocrisy. This is Damian’s quiet nod to Che Guevara though, saluting the Argentine legend by a shadow of the man’s vision.
Greed is a benevolent malice, never failing to intensify once it gains a foothold, and assiduously engulfs the society as a whole before tearing it into shreds. We often fall victims to our own greed and are bogged down by the others’ lust, notably the people who exact favors for us, citing what they call ‘The Proposal’. Damian knows this, and smartly does a role reversal, putting the common man in the form of a father arranging cover for his son’s drunken hit and run of a pregnant woman. For every single negotiation, the beggars are on stake too; something man fails to comprehend, or does comprehend but yields due to fear of the loss of favors. This part was criticized heavily for being too plain, but Damian did something innovative, creating a parallel world, where the viewer would feel a pang of sympathy for the obvious wrong. Mauricio lashes out at the snarling sharks, cutting their source of nourishment when they start demanding an arm after a leg. The true nature of the greedy gluttons see the day of light, as the lawyer, volunteer and prosecutor hurriedly cut back their demands and try to go back on the original agreement. Mauricio utilizes the ball in his court perfectly, smashing his terms on them and willing them to submit before his will. Greed meets a poetic justice though anti-climatically when the volunteer is struck on the head with a hammer by the dead woman’s husband, before being shot at himself by the police. Damian points his thumb at the unfairness that wealth bring. The volunteer was almost a willing martyr for the spoilt rich boy, with greed being his only vice.
Marriage is a tricky affair and it is supposed to last a lifetime from its inception. In the last chapter, Damian squeezes an eternity of married life into a single Jewish wedding night. Infidelity, counter affair, revenge, mental break down, separation notice and reconciliation all happen in one glamorous evening. Damian mocks the selfishness which people in love generally show. The close friends and relatives feel the dirt during their tumultuous times, and are ignored during the best of times. The fact that the erstwhile estranged couple have sex in front of everyone right after the kinsmen from both parties were at swords with each other, speaks volumes of the level of audacity in selfishness man has when it comes to love. Love unites and love prospers. But love also irritates and Damian has made a stand for it. He ends his anthology on a high, subtly abusing the nuances of union with a bizarre tale. ‘Till Death do us part’ indeed.
Making an anthology film requires courage and Damian had oodles of it. He has throughout this 2 hour journey, laid out the core theme of his film at key points very strategically. He was aided by a creative Gustavo whose music amplified the tone of the film, at points when it was required the most. The mastery of Gustavo’s craft is felt perfectly in ‘The Strongest’. The background score lifts the plot up by a few inches. Cinematographer Javier Julia proves his mettle in the most unique way, his highlights being the crumbling of the building in ‘Bombita’ and the crashing of ‘Pasternak’’s plane. The amazing thing about Wild Tales is that the viewer never fails to keep himself interested. The transitions are seamless, with one story flowing into the next naturally, without any actual thread holding them whole. The opening credits do deserve a round of applause. The slide show of beasts seems quite natural going by the title of the movie. A closer look would yield the careful mapping of the animal to the teacher.
‘Wild Tales’ is a rare breed of cinema which hardly hits the silver screen these days. Watch out for the power packed performances of the actors, almost all of them being amateurs. May the savagery never rear its ugly head!
The author is a software engineer at Infosys and a passionate film and football buff, with a special interest in deciphering the literature behind the movies.