Oscars 2015 Foreign-Language Spotlight: Argentina's 'Wild Tales'

Wild Tales Film Still - H 2014

Wild Tales Film Still - H 2014

Damian Szifron's dark comedy is the biggest local hit in Argentinean cinema history.

"There are two ways to go in life," philosophizes 39-year-old Argentinian director Damian Szifron: "One is to be careful and to take every step thinking of your fears and worst-case scenarios. I am not that kind of guy."

No, he isn't. And because of that he now finds himself smack in the middle of a best-case scenario: nominated for his first Oscar, in the best foreign-language film category, for Wild Tales, which isn't merely the biggest success of his career but also the largest indigenous hit in Argentinean cinema history.

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An anthology made up of six savagely comic revenge stories -- including one about a bride who learns at the altar that her husband-to-be has been unfaithful with one of her bridesmaids, and another about road rage that ends with a bang -- the movie got raves on the festival circuit last year and has made Szifron's name one that Hollywood suddenly is working very hard to learn to pronounce. "I think I would love to have final cut," says Szifron, getting the hang of how Hollywood works. "I think that is possible. Of course, it depends on the budget…"

Szifron, who says he wrote the film in his bathtub, was the self-described "black sheep" of his film school, FUC in Buenos Aires. While his classmates were obsessing over French New Wave, he was falling in love with American films, diving into the works of Coppola, Spielberg, Lumet and De Palma. His pop sensibility made him a filmmaker-to-watch in his homeland (and elsewhere), with his 2002-2003 Argentinian TV cult hit The Pretenders becoming so popular that it was remade in Russia.

His first two films, The Bottom of the Sea, about a man stalking his ex-girlfriend's new lover, and On Probation, a cop-meets-psychiatrist buddy movie, made him one of his country's most popular directors. But the anthology, which debuted at Cannes in 2014, swept the country's Academy Awards.

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Wild Tales -- produced by two of his biggest fans, Pedro Almodovar and his brother Agustin -- was Szifron's most ambitious project to date, involving an enormous cast (including Argentina's top actor Ricardo Darin, as well as local A-listers Oscar Martinez and Erica Rivas) and explosive special effects. That wedding segment, for instance, took 10 days to shoot, with 200 extras dressed for the occasion, none of whom had been told about the cheating-groom plot point.

"I could see their reactions throughout the shoot going from bad to worse," Szifron says. As tricky as it was to film, though, he enjoyed the anthology format so much that he's contemplating doing it again -- this time possibly with American stars. "You have so many fantastic actors," he says, though the one he most wants to work with, Gene Hackman, has retired.

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"Since I was three years old, my father took me to the movies," says Szifron, musing on the transcendent power of cinema. "I like the audience. I am one of them. I think movies truly can transform you. I know a couple that after leaving a screening of The Bridges of Madison County decided to divorce that very moment."

Wild Tales
Submitting country Argentina
Director Damian Szifron
Top award Best film, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Argentina

Read up on the film's competitors in the foreign-language race, which are from Russia, Estonia, Poland and Mauritania.