Tag Archives: Latin American cinema

Wild Tales

Wild Tales
Wild Tales

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 March 2015

Distributor: Curzon Film World

Director: Damián Szifrón

Writer: Damián Szifrón

Cast: Liliana Ackerman, Luis Manuel Altamirano García, Alejandro Angelini

Original title: Relatos salvajes

Argentina, Spain 2014

122 mins

An aeroplane flight takes a plunge into the unexpected when the passengers realise they all have something in common. The waitress at a roadside café realises she is serving a man who deserves to die. A small road rage incident between two motorists in the mountains turns with alarming speed into a Duel-like battle for survival. A demolitions expert gets his life destroyed by a parking enforcement company and takes the appropriate measures. A millionaire tries to buy a way out of his son’s complicity in a hit and run, but finds himself quibbling about the financial details. A wedding party goes south in spectacular fashion when the bride realises some ugly truths about her groom.

Wild Tales, a glossy Spanish/Argentine co-production, is a portmanteau affair from writer/director Damián Szifrón, produced by a brace of Almodóvars. It eschews any linking devices or modish title cards and just gets on with delivering its six, well, wild tales, of darkly comical societal breakdown. In all of the stories there is a delicious turning point from a recognisable world where reason holds sway to one of delirious abandonment where its mostly middle-class protagonists utterly lose themselves to the petty delights of revenge and score settling. We end up in a world of murder and mayhem and, in the fourth tale, a heart-warming act of terrorism, entirely able to understand how we got here, but a bit dizzy about how it all escalated so fast.

This is fantastically entertaining stuff, from the knockout , big-budget Buñuelian punch of the opening story onwards, with beautiful photography by Javier Julia, fine music by Gustavo Santaolalla, and not a foot put wrong in editing or performances. There’s a gleeful perversity at work here, as if Szifrón is simultaneously despairing at all this appalling behaviour and finding it hard to hide his delight at the path things have taken. The stories display a welcome versatility of mood and texture: the second is a rain-soaked gloomy Gothic, the third a dusty, savage urbanoia horror in glaring daylight, the fourth an elegantly mounted slow builder. For my money, the fifth tale takes the foot off the gas a little too much, and while it’s cutting, it just doesn’t have the snap of the others. The last episode, ‘Till death do us part’, however, was one of the most exhilarating pieces of celluloid I’ve seen in a long while, a concentrated bomb of depravity and self-abasement captured brilliantly with agile camerawork that had me watching through my fingers (and wondering how close every drunken reception gets to this…). Like an act of revenge, Wild Tales probably isn’t healthy or edifying, but damn, it feels good. Highly recommended.

Mark Stafford

This review is part of our LFF 2014 coverage.

Watch the trailer:

Lion’s Den

Lion's Den

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 March 2010

Venue: Curzon Soho, Odeon Panton St (London) and key cities

Distributor: Axiom Films

Director: Pablo Trapero

Writers: Alejandro Fadel, Martí­n Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero

Original title: Leonera

Cast: Martina Gusman, Elli Medeiros, Laura Garcí­a, Rodrigo Santoro

France 2008

113 mins

A woman wakes up in a trashed apartment, covered in bruises, with deep, painful scratches carved into her shoulder. In the shower, blood streams off her aching body. Still in shock, Julia (Martina Gusman) only realises hours later that two men are in the flat with her - one, her boyfriend, has been stabbed to death, the other - Ramiro, her boyfriend’s lover - is badly injured but still alive. Unable to remember what happened, she’s thrown into jail by the police, where she soon discovers that she’s pregnant.

Lion’s Den, the fifth film from Argentine director Pablo Trapero, could not be further from the exploitation films that characterised the women in prison genre in the 70s. The movie is named for the penitentiary units where women with children are housed during their incarceration. In Argentina, the children are allowed to remain inside with their mothers until the age of four, when they’re removed by the Court and either placed with a relative or in state care.

Julia finds herself in a shockingly decrepit cell. The other mothers are mostly uneducated, peasant women, in sharp contrast to Julia’s rebellious but upper-class character. Trapero captures all the gritty realism of life in prison, but the film also has the feel of a slow-burning thriller - as Julia adjusts to life on the inside, her case pits her against Ramiro (played by Rodrigo Santoro), who accuses her of being solely responsible for his lover’s death.

With her life shattered, Julia struggles with motherhood. Unable to breastfeed after her son, Tomí¡s, is born, she’s helped by her cellmate Marta, who intervenes when the baby’s cries begin to drive the other mothers and children over the edge. Older and more experienced, Marta takes Julia under her wing, eventually leading to a relationship between the two women, who manage to find some small comfort in the confines of the prison.

But the wheels of justice are grindingly and appallingly slow: Julia gives birth and raises her baby behind bars without ever going to trial. As Tomí¡s gets older and approaches the all-important age of four, Julia’s distant, beautiful and unwelcome mother (played by the singer and actress Elli Medeiros) intervenes, returning to Buenos Aires from her life in Paris to take over the role of looking after her grandson, with disturbing and dramatic consequences.

Filmed almost entirely within an existing women’s penitentiary, using real inmates and guards as extras, Lion’s Den is a deeply harrowing film. Martina Gusman, who won the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Prize for best actress, delivers a powerful performance as a determined mother who will do anything to keep her child. While the film, released so soon after Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, may not be as polished, or as entertaining as the French thriller, it is a more brutal, realistic and morally ambiguous portrayal of life in prison.

Although the film’s ending may seem a little unconvincing, Trapero never offers the audience any easy answers. We never really discover the truth behind the murder, and are left to decide whether a mother’s love for her child is more important than an innocent child’s right to freedom and a life outside prison.

Sarah Cronin