There can’t be anyone who hasn’t heard by now the story of Andreas Lubitz. He was, of course, the Germanwings co-pilot who seems to have deliberately slammed a plane carrying 150 people into a mountain peak in the French Alps. The possibility of a suicidal maniac at the controls is just one more reason for all of us to shudder when thinking about our next trip into the “friendly skies.” But I didn’t expect the full horror of the situation to hit me at my local movie house.
Last weekend I finally caught up with Wild Tales (or Relatos Selvajes) the darkly comic film from Argentina that was nominated for the 2015 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. Written and directed by Damián Szifrón, and produced by Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar, Wild Tales is a morbid but hilarious exploration of people behaving badly. This anthology film brings together six short vignettes united by the theme of revenge. Here the grotesque is the norm: death by rat poison, death by butcher knife, grim encounters with a hammer and an oversized mirror. One segment, “El Más Fuerte,” is a rapidly escalating tale about the consequences of road rage. Another, which translates as “Till Death Do Us Part,” kicks off with a joyous wedding reception, then introduces jealousy, sex, an orgy of destruction, and a blood-stained bridal gown. The stories are carefully crafted, and the ending of each is rarely predictable. (In one case a vengeful explosion turns a sad-sack into a local hero.) Basically, though, it’s hard to tell which comes off worse: Argentina’s tangled government bureaucracy or basic human nature.
The opening segment, called simply “Pasternak,” is the one that took my breath away. It starts out with an attractive young woman, a fashion model, showing up for an airline flight. Once aloft, she discovers that each and every one of her fellow passengers has some sort of long-ago connection with her former boyfriend, a fellow named Gabriel Pasternak. There’s a music critic who barred his way into a conservatory, a teacher who labeled him hopeless, a shrink who failed to help him solve his problems, a best friend who let him down . . . . And guess who turns out to be the purser on the flight, the one who’s just barricaded himself in the cockpit? There’s a final twist that I won’t spoil: it’s simultaneously delicious and horrible. Yes, life sometimes imitates art, but this coincidental overlapping of screenplay and current events was (not just for me, I’m certain) a bit too close for comfort.
But leave it to the Argentineans to look at the world through a glass, darkly. (I guess the cynical Argentine approach to life reflects a bizarre national history that includes, among other oddities, the eccentric regime of Juan and Evita Perón.) When I was Roger Corman’s story editor at Concorde-New Horizons, I was privileged to work with Héctor Olivera, best known for a sardonic 1983 political film, Funny Dirty Little War, that won international prizes. Though Héctor, a courtly white-haired gentleman, was a respected filmmaker in his own country, he seemed happy enough to direct Concorde schlock like Barbarian Queen and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom. We’d come up with the scripts, send a few leading actors down Argentine way, and let Héctor do the rest. I worked directly with him on Two to Tango, an English-language version of an Argentine hit-man thriller, and on Play Murder for Me. (Yes, I have credits on both films.)
Muchas gracias to Argentine journalist (and Facebook buddy) Andrés Fevrier for reminding me of those wild and crazy days.