In his standup special, Oh My God, Louis C. K. talks about how people are inordinately cruel to other drivers when they do something innocuous like cut you off on the highway. He describes the revenge they exact on their wrongdoers by yelling such invective as, "Piece of shit!" and "I hope you die!" That is, stuff you want to say to folks in real life, but never actually would say if you were, say, face-to-face with them.

Wild Tales is a movie about the insane capacity for violence that lies within us all, and what happens when we abandon the restrictions of society in order to tap into that violence. It is a logical extension of C. K.'s joke, a hilarious, pitch-black comedy that deserves mention in the same sentence as the best work by the Coen brothers. It is gleeful in its celebration of reckless abandon, while also functioning well as an essay about Right Now in Argentina.

The film is actually six short films edited together, none of the stories of which have any relation to one another. We watch what happens when a never-seen, angry man rounds up everyone who did him wrong on an airplane. A young waitress takes gruesome revenge on the gangster who ruined her family. A rich man and so-called "redneck" come to a grim end over -- you guessed it -- road rage. An demolitions engineer fights back against the corrupt ticketing system in Buenos Aires. A wealthy family scrambles to salvage their reputation when their son kills someone in a hit-and-run. A wedding that begins auspiciously spirals into hysterics, brutal violence, and finally... well, I don't want to give that away.

This film, although structurally unconventional, certainly has its antecedents, such as Zhangke Jia's grim A Touch of Sin and Bobcat Goldthwait's murder-y satire, God Bless America. Writer-director Damian Szifron's great achievement here is the mélange of tones that he jumps between. Some sequences are laugh-out-loud funny (even as you wince at the mayhem), while one in particular is dead serious and deeply sobering, yet it feels of a piece with the rest of the film. This is because Szifron is up to more than merely tantalizing our bloodlust. His stories, while extreme and often downright ludicrous, all have a point to make about the tinyhells we all live through every day, and how close we are to madness.

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