Isabel (María Marull) is a model who arrives at the airport with somewhere to go, and inquires if she is late for the flight, but she's just in time. On boarding, she takes her seat and the aeroplane takes off, whereupon the man across the aisle strikes up a conversation. Being polite, she tells him her profession and asks what his is, receiving the reply he is a music critic; rock? No, classical. That's interesting, remarks Isabel, my old boyfriend was a classical musician, and soon after a little more chat they discover the critic knows of this Pasternak fellow, indeed he drummed him out of a college interview because he was so bad at his ambitions. Then the woman in the seat in front interrupts - she knew Pasternak too...
This introductory pre-credits sequence was the preamble to more tales of revenge taken to outlandish extremes, but also lent writer and director Damián Szifrón a measure of notoriety for apparently predicting a real life aircraft disaster over the Alps a few months after his film was released where a member of the crew deliberately crashed into the mountains, killing everyone on board. In this case that scenario had a black comedy twist, but after the tragedy it made more than one audience uncomfortable wondering what their reaction should be now life imitated art - and that shot of the plane growing from a dot in the sky to a huge closeup of its nose hurtling towards the ground was undeniably alarming.
What followed were five other stories of push coming to shove where Spanish language celebrities played characters who would find themselves taken from an ordinary day to an over the top scenario, some treated more humorously than others, but all with a certain arched eyebrow quality about the way the dramas would unfold. Once you got over your disquiet (and possible guilty laughter), the second tale told of a waitress who sees the scumbag loan shark and aspiring politician responsible for her father's death enter her café for a meal. The cook decides this would be the ideal time to poison him to death by hiding rat poison in his egg and chips, but as with every plan here the viewer was forced to ask if anything the characters did was at all justified.
Or were they giving in to their worst impulses, which may be a sadly human reaction, but was that any excuse? Next up was the most outright humorous episode as a road rage incident gets utterly out of hand; you could consider what happened as a more violent version of the tit for tat escalations Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy would get embroiled with regularly. Next up was a yarn for every thwarted urban warrior as a demolition expert sees his life demolished when his car is towed away for parking in a no parking zone, only there were no markings or signs to indicate it was anything of the sort. Here we will be closest to understanding how the frustrations mounting up could result in the destructive consequences of modern life's petty bureaucracy.
Yet even then the question Szifrón was needling away at you with arose, is any of this fair reaction to the circumstances as posited? The fifth story would likely not have troubled your conscience too much, as it shows a wealthy family (class was often an issue here) employing crisis management when the son commits a hit and run that kills a pregnant woman and persuade the gardener to take the blame for a hefty sum. But money brings its own problems when so many want a piece of it. Lastly, we had a wedding where the bride (Erica Rivas) discovers a little too soon - that is, during the actual celebration - that her new spouse may be cheating on her, something that could only have been brought about by the burgeoning new technology as it infects relationships to a detrimental extent. This was one of the longest stories, and took its time to expand on a conclusion that was a lot more simple and straightforward: nobody's perfect, and we have to live with that so may as well try to get along on friendly terms. Not that doing so would be at all easy, mind you. Music by Gustavo Santaolalla.