Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

Wild Tales director Damian Szifron: 9 questions about his Oscar-nominated film

film still from Wild Tales, Argentina. 2014. DIFFCREDIT: Courtesy DIFF
film still from Wild Tales, Argentina. 2014. DIFFCREDIT: Courtesy DIFF

The most vocal audience reaction I’ve ever experienced at a cinema – not just at a festival, just in the UAE, but ever – was the screening of Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) at the Dubai International Film Festival last year. The stunningly fresh Almodóvar-produced compendium of six mini-movies provokes a mix of shock, awe and humour, and thrilled the Madinat Jumeirah crowd into a steady stream of gasps, laughs and claps.

An Argentinian thriller with an offbeat, post-Tarantino mix of gore, realism and absurdity, the film is currently in the running for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, to be announced on Sunday. Right on the money, The Scene Club are offering Dubai-dwellers another chance to catch it, with two screenings a day later on Monday and Tuesday.

To mark both those screenings and the Oscar race, here’s my chat with the maniacal mind behind this cult classic-in-making, writer-director Damián Szifron.

First of all, what kind of mind comes up with a movie like this?

I’m a regular kind of guy, but since I was a kid I’ve liked using my imagination, and as a writer I’m connected with my childhood in a way which allows me to create whatever comes to my mind – I don’t judge the imagination, I respect it.

All six stories have the theme of revenge in them. Was this your intention when you began writing?

No – I just wrote the stories separately, and suddenly when I had three or four I discovered that they belonged to the same universe, they came from the same DNA. You have revenge – but I would say the theme is the pleasure of losing control – not just losing it, but the pleasure of having that reaction.

So these six Wild Tales began as short stories, with no intention of making a feature?

Yes, I was developing other stuff, other feature films, and these ideas came up. I tried to not allow them [each] to become a feature film, to compress each of them to the bone of the conflict and the characters, and as a result I got these powerful stories, and I felt freer as a writer. The writing process was more like perhaps what a musician feels when he grabs a guitar and creates a song – I always envy the painter who wakes up and just creates something, and that’s it. With this movie I felt a little bit like this.

There’s much that’s absurd in these stories, but some of them feel very grounded in real life. Were there any real life news stories, or people you knew, which inspired the tales?

I would say the beginning of each story is based in reality, but not the ending. What I did was to take conflicts and feelings and frustrations from my real life, or from the lives of people I know, and take them into the world of fiction or fantasy, so now I think you experience this film as if it’s part of an anthology of science fiction.

So if these stories are based on real life – what’s the worst act of revenge you’ve ever performed?

I think that revenge is something that relates so much to fiction and film because it’s something in our imagination – we don’t do these things, we think of doing them, so we create these scenes and fantasise about these moments, which never come. You never do these things because you measure the consequences. Other animals can’t repress themselves, they are determined by their instincts – we have the ability to repress our instincts, but that provokes frustration and anger. Sometimes you see these crazy people on the streets having arguments [with nobody] that they had years ago. We are not crazy, but we live with these frustrations, and some explode – and this is a film about those people.

So these stories could happen?

They could happen, in a way – there’s a lot of fiction in this film, but I think we all have a breaking point, and I have found myself doing things I didn’t know I was capable of.

How did you get Pedro Almodóvar on board as producer?

Pedro and his brother Agustín saw On Probation, a film I did in 2005, and they called me from Spain and said they loved it and wanted to know what I was going to do next. So as soon as I decided on this project we sent it to them and they were immediately on board.

Since opening at Cannes in May you’ve screened at many of the biggest festivals in the world and won many awards with this movie. How do you see your chances at the Oscars?

Of course it’s hard to get there, but perhaps we have a chance. It’s a strange time for a writer or director, the award period, because you can’t do anything – your work is done. If you think of a soccer player who is going to the World Cup, the real thing is the game. But a movie going to some festival, you already did the job and you’re there for some pictures. You feel this tension, but actually – that’s it, the film is out there. Competition is not related deeply to art, it’s a distortion – when you make a film you’re not thinking of what the other guy is doing. And suddenly you find yourself competing with another director, winning this or losing that, but that’s not real. It’s not related to the real thing – to create, to shoot – what’s real to me is the relationship with the audience.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on several feature films, writing and directing, and probably going to be filmed in English, and probably to be shot in the US. Now I’m more attracted to a bold thriller in the vein of Silence of the Lambs or Seven – that’s what I’m writing now, but I’ve already written some scripts I could do. But I want to make something in English.

Wild Tales is being screened by The Scene Club at Knowledge Village Conference Centre, Dubai, on Monday February 23 and Tuesday February 24, at 8pm. The screenings are currently full, but to apply for standby tickets go to www.thesceneclub.com.

Updated: February 19, 2015 04:00 AM

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