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Revenge is brutal in Wild Tales

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Revenge is one of the great themes in literature and movie-making.  Like love and lust, revenge is passionate and can reveal the darkest aspects of human nature.  The annals of movie history are full of great revenge movies.   Sadly, Wild Tales isn’t one of them.

Produced by Pedro Almodóvar and directed by Damian Szifrón, the Oscar-nominated Wild Tales is a collection of six short stories about getting your own back.  But in these stories, the punishment does not fit the crime.  This isn’t just about getting even; it’s about murder and mayhem on a grand scale in retaliation for a husband’s infidelity, an unwarranted parking fine, or thuggish road rage.

The film is at its best when it exposes the corruption and misery that is apparently endemic in Argentine society.  These are people who feel abused and exploited, and it’s understandable that it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge.

Szifrón had a wonderful opportunity to explore humanity and morality under pressure – think Lord of the Flies set in modern-day Argentina – but Wild Tales takes the easy way out.  This is murder for laughs, and the bigger and bloodier the revenge, the bigger the laugh.

The six short stories presented in Wild Tales are unrelated, apart from their theme of revenge, and each has an outrageous climax.  The combined effect is like watching six trailers rather than a coherent feature film; it’s as if they just made the highlights and couldn’t be bothered making the rest of the film.

British playwright Alan Ayckbourn said that unadulterated revenge was “the greatest feeling in the world”.  But he took five hours to explore its deepest motivations and ramifications, not just a few minutes of high-impact violence.

Wild Tales has its Australian premiere on May 20 at the Spanish Film Festival, which opened this week at Palace Nova Cinemas in Adelaide.

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