Revenge is a dish best served with hot buttered popcorn ... at least when it comes to these two 2014 international treats from opposite ends of the globe. From the warm climes of the Southern Hemisphere, the Argentinian anthology film Wild Tales demonstrates the Latin temperament at its most fiery when it comes to vengeance. In Order of Disappearance goes to the snowy depths of Norway, where ruthlessness in the name of revenge is, if anything, even more brutal.
Paradoxically, both films are seasoned with a sly sense of humor.
Written and directed by Damián Szifrón, the six separate, wildly different segments that comprise Wild Tales are untitled until the closing credits, flowing one into another with no connection other than the theme of payback. Aside from the usual production logos, the film opens with no opening titles or credits whatsoever. A young woman boards a plane and engages in idle chitchat with an older passenger, who's trying to hit on her. At the mention of a common acquaintance named "Pasternak" (also the title of the episode), other passengers begin to home in on the conversation, discovering in short order that everyone aboard has had an unhappy relationship of one kind or another with the same gentleman. And, at present, he's locked in the cockpit.
It's only with a terrific freeze-frame at the end of "Pasternak" that the opening titles begin to roll.
The Rats takes place in a small diner where a young waitress discovers her sole customer is a mob boss, who's responsible for ruining her family. Though she's uncertain what to do, the cook (an older woman less concerned with moral niceties) decides to take matters into her own capable hands. "The Strongest" (possibly the best of the excellent half-dozen) graphically illustrates the consequences of road rage.
The second three entries, each considerably longer than those in first group, are more character-driven, though the original plots are unusual. In "Little Bomb," a demolition engineer gets frustrated when his car is towed, forcing him to miss his daughter's birthday party. As we find out, he's a man who does not bow to officialdom. "The Proposal" shows a very rich man trying to decide what to do after his son is found guilty of a hit-and-run, killing a pregnant woman. His legal advisors, lawyers, and his wife all have plans as to how to deal with the unpleasantness, though none could be prepared for the ultimate resolution.
Finally, "Until Death Do Us Part" focuses on an expensive and joyous wedding reception that quickly turns to riotous mayhem when the bride finds her husband flirting with an old love. A wedding planner's nightmare but a filmgoer's delight, the closing story is a fitting end to the series of Wild Tales, each written with wit and acid, wonderfully acted, and directed with aplomb and flourish by Szifrón, whose film was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
Up north in Norway's snowy drifts, In Order of Disappearance opens with a middle-aged Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) being honored by his small community as Citizen of the Year. Nils is the guy who drives the massive snowplow, keeping the surrounding countryside's roads open. Even as he's being honored for his civic contributions, however, his son is murdered by a ruthless gang of dope dealers who make the death look like an overdose.
Refusing to accept the official verdict, Nils is determined to find out what really happened, hunting down the henchmen directly responsible-all the way up to suave, sophisticated and thoroughly vicious crime lord Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen). Unlike Liam Neeson in the Taken flicks, Nils is an amateur, learning as he goes but growing more and more efficient with his revenge. His efforts, however, accidentally ignite a similar war of vengeance between Greven's Nordic gang and a rival Serbian drug lord (Bruno Ganz), the resulting body count escalating exponentially.
Rather than a choreographed bloodfest in the mold of John Wick or Taken, director Hans Petter Moland gives his major players complicated back stories, all of them involving love of family. Each of them is a distinct personality rather than a stereotype, and the performers (good and bad guys alike) are simply terrific.
After the opening title, each of the film's cast is identified by a memorial cross, Star of David, etc. upon his character's demise, literally "in order of disappearance." Despite its violence (more realistic than graphic), the film is not without a wry sense of humor.
Samuel Johnson, the great English lexicographer, argued that "revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged." Whatever the distinction, these two films cover all the bases.