PSIFF: Wild Tales
By Heidi Simmons
A small commotion breaks out at the Palm Springs International Film Festival filmmaker’s check-in desk at the Renaissance Esmeralda. It’s the good kind of raised voices – happy, excited, lots of praise and thank yous.
At the center of the hubbub is a young man, blonde, thin and with a big friendly smile. He loops on the turquois lanyard that indicates he’s a filmmaker. Two older men soon hustle him off, as he nods at the kind people who have so graciously welcomed him.
When the PR people who run the press office tell me who he is, I get the same excited feeling. It is the writer and director of WILD TALES, Damián Szifrón of Argentina.
His movie consists of six short stories that unfold in 120 minutes with one underlying theme: Revenge! And it feels so, so good. That is, as long as your only role is watching the film.
Beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted, WILD TALES stands out as a fun yet dangerous movie about people behaving very badly. Many who have seen it, can’t easily shake it. Those in the PSIFF Hospitality Suite huddle around the filmmaker wanting to say something about his movie and take selfies with him. And that includes me.
Szifrón has been on a wild ride since his film was completed in 2014. He has been all around the world showing WILD TALES in festivals garnering similar enthusiastic response. He just got off the plane in Palm Springs when his handlers, who seem to know very little about him, march him through his schedule. But they’re on task to get Szifrón to his screening and engagements. Szifrón is only in town two and a half days before he must show WILD TALES in New York.
When the handlers are busy shuffling papers, I take my opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed the film and I ask if we can talk. Szifrón is animated and shares like an old friend.
Considering the dark subject matter, I am most curious about peoples’ enthusiastic guilty pleasure toward WILD TALES.
“The great pleasure of WILD TALES is the idea of loosing control,” he said. “Animals act on instinct, but humans repress their instincts. The film explores what happens when men and women let go and stop repressing themselves.”
Szifrón shot the film in eight weeks for $4,000,000. He was able to get top talent because of the allure of the complex character roles and the short filming schedule. WILD TALES is one of nine films in the PSIFF to be considered for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar©. Szifrón has worked as a writer in episodic television and directed two other feature films.
“I started writing these short episodes years ago and I noticed there was a theme, “ he said. “I liked exploring the freedom of imagination and how far it might go. Reality was my inspiration. It had to be real to work.”
Szifrón admires Alfred Hitchcock and structured the stories to twist and surprise. He let his imagination go and allowed nature to take its course. “People like it because they think of themselves in the situation and wonder what they might or might not do,” Szifrón said. “It’s a release from their stressful lives. And they can safely laugh or judge because it’s not them.”
Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustín came on board as producers after they read the script, helping the movie pick up momentum. They share Szifrón’s humor and appreciated the anthology film with its vengeance theme.
WILD TALES made a splash at the Cannes Film festival and continues to charm audiences wherever it’s screened. When Szifrón’s handler called time on our conversation, the writer director thanked me then hugged and kissed me on both cheeks, as is the Argentine custom.
As Szifrón skedaddled to his screening, I found it amazing that WILD TALES came from such a sweet and charming guy who doesn’t seem to have a vengeful bone in his body. But I guess one never knows.