Brief Thoughts: Wild Tales + While We're Young

Wild Tales
Dir. Damon Szifron

Wild Tales, a series of darkly absurd vignettes from Argentinian director Damian Szifron, begins with striking photography of various species of predatory wildlife. Those opening credits, like the plane crash that prefaces it, aren't what you'd call subtle in getting their point across. Gaze into the coolly appraising eyes of a jungle cat or African crocodile and it's clearly implied that we share the same primal malevolent streak. But one thing not shared between species is the capacity for personal revenge; that particular drive is unique to humanity. Szifron takes on the subject of revenge, big and small - with mordant, hilarious aplomb.  From spurned ex-lovers to victims of road accidents, the constraints of civilised social behaviour are forgotten in exchange for ruthless payback. Whether the incidents are savagely petty or cathartically righteous, they tend to be Old Testament in their judgement.

The resulting vignettes are both bitterly funny and genuinely harrowing; some reach their prescribed end goal with more satisfaction than others, but almost all have an over-the-top streak of comic book violence. The wealthy seem pitted frequently against the struggling poor, who are nonetheless corruptible where money is involved. Hints at lurking South American inequality abound. A portion involving a wealthy teen guilty of a hit and run reaches a breathtaking conclusion; but my favourite is the final vignette, a joyous wedding that goes disastrously, jaw-droppingly wrong. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, indeed. Szifron is clever in avoiding the cheap thrill of further violence; he reaches an unexpected equilibrium that hints at the ultimate futility of retribution. It's a film that does occasionally feel a bit gimmicky - and while it might not necessarily be ripe for repeat viewing, it's a hell of a lot of fun the first time round.

While We're Young 
Dir. Noah Baumbach 

Baumbach's follow-up to Frances Ha - his likable profile of meandering hipsterdom - is another affable, witty exploration of New York creative life and neuroses. Ben Stiller is Josh, a veteran documentarian married to producer, Cornelia (Naomi Watts). The middle-aged couple, surrounded by friends who keep reproducing, seem content with one another - but there's a growing hint of malaise about them. Baumbach has a real talent for drawing richly-observed characters, and charts the complications that ensue when the older couple make friends with a pair of twenty-somethings.

Adam Driver is Jamie, a charming young aspiring documentary filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn with his wife Darby. The young creatives become friends with the older couple on the basis of a shared, polite adulation of Josh's career. Josh, who has been working on a stalled project and is beginning to feel the stagnation, is flattered and enlivened by the attention. The resultant episodes seem to flit between insightful and goofy, with Cornelia awkwardly joining Darby's hip-hop dance class, and Josh taking to donning a fedora.

But their neediness is real, as are their anxieties about fading into insignificance - both artistically and personally. Jamie and Darby, on the other hand, are steeped in trendy self-belief, but their work is all shallow posturing and empty irony. They lack sincerity, and Baumbach's view of them is accordingly caustic. Yet Josh's final remark about the conniving Jamie is ambivalent: 'He's not evil. Just young.'

 While We're Young is a thoughtful and funny exploration of incestuous cultural circles, and the generational values that divide them. It seems that Baumbach's final conclusion is that there's just no way around the essential careerism and insincerity of modern youth. It's not a good thing or a bad thing - it's just a thing. This is ultimately a little bit unsatisfying. Josh complains that the only feelings he's capable of are 'wistful or disdainful' -- but he finally comes full circle, resulting in something like a wistful shrug.

Now showing at the Broadway Cinema Nottingham.


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