American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
On the face of it, Quentin Tarantino declaring the second-rate Israeli torture thriller "Big Bad Wolves" the best film of 2013 is patently ridiculous, especially given how seriously inferior it is to Tarantino's own work in the grisly exploitation field. But there's an obvious logic to it. It's been nearly twenty years since the big raft of post-"Pulp Fiction" Tarantino imitations got the bum's rush from critics and audiences. So it must be some comfort to the auteur to find that Tarantino-aping hasn't died out entirely; it's just moved to Israel.
More specifically, "Big Bad Wolves" plays like an extended tribute to the torture scene in "Reservoir Dogs," a description that alone should tell readers whether they'll find it appealing or not. The victim, a mild-mannered young schoolteacher who is suspected of killing and beheading a number of little girls, is strapped in a chair, where his toenails are ripped from his feet, his chest scorched with a blowtorch and his neck carved into with a rusty blade. (If this sounds like a fun night at the movies, then by all means, pile the kids into the wagon and go.)
As in Tarantino, all the gruesomeness isn't served straight but rather garnished with a portion of absurdist japery. For example, when the torturers apply the blowtorch to naked flesh, one remarks approvingly that it "smells like barbecue." A few of these jokes score a laugh; most come off as formulaic and flat.
For that young teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), the abuse is close to unrelenting. Early on, he's picked up and beaten mercilessly by three cops. When a video surreptitiously made of that assault goes viral, it seems like he may get a reprieve. But no. After another headless child is found, rogue cop Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) goes after Dror again, but his assault is interrupted by the little girl's father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who imprisons both the detective and the teacher in the basement of his remote country home since his motives are different than those of the police: Rather than wanting to solve the crimes, he simply intends to torture the young man into revealing the location of his daughter's head, then kill him.