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amores perros

review by rob gonsalves

director/producer
Alejandro González Iñárritu

screenwriter
Guillermo Arriaga Jordan

cinematographer
Rodrigo Prieto

music
Gustavo Santaolalla

editors
Carlos Bolado
Luis Carballar
Alejandro González Iñárritu


cast

Emilio Echevarría (El Chivo)
Gael García Bernal
(Octavio)
Goya Toledo
(Valeria)
Álvaro Guerrero
(Daniel)
Vanessa Bauche
(Susana)
Jorge Salinas
(Luis)
Marco Pérez
(Ramiro)
Rodrigo Murray
(Gustavo)
Dunia Saldívar
(Susana's Mother)
Adriana Barraza
(Octavio's Mother)
José Sefami
(Leonardo)
Lourdes Echevarría
(Maru)


mpaa rating: R
running time: 153m
mexican release: June 16, 2000
u.s. release: March 30, 2001
video availability: VHS - DVD
official website


other alejandro gonzález iñárritu films
reviewed on this website:

- 21 grams


It's early yet, but Amores Perros may well turn out to be the movie of the decade. Too bad it was released (in Mexico) only six months into the decade. As layered and capable of surprise as Pulp Fiction -- to which it has been compared because it, too, consists of a trio of stories -- Alejandro González Iñárritu's sinfully enjoyable epic roars in on a wave of blood, gunshots and dog barks, pauses for a morosely controlled study of upper-class discontent, then pulls it all together in its final, steadily lacerating segment, which focuses on the emotional violence of family. Actually, all three segments do; the title Amores Perros works out as a pun in the American translation -- "Love's a Bitch." It sure is. The movie's big theme is what we'll do for love, even when love won't do much for us.

González Iñárritu could fairly be called a melodramatist: His stories revolve around amped-up despair, with a central brutal accident altering the lives of all its characters, and among the personalities on view here are a homeless assassin, a fashion model, and an ambitious kid who enlists his dog to compete in gory dogfights so that he can earn money to provide for his pregnant girlfriend, who also happens to be his brother's wife. If the words "soap opera" have surfaced in your head at this point, you're not wrong, and González Iñárritu is way ahead of you. After all, the main problem with soaps is that the storylines never really end; the characters go on for years, often played by new actors when the previous ones leave to "pursue other interests," and nobody ever stays dead. But take away the assembly-line Monday-to-Fridayness of soaps and you do often have the stuff of serious fiction -- even fantasy fiction, as any Passions fan will tell you -- and Amores Perros does for soap themes what Pulp Fiction did for pulp themes.

In the first section, "Octavio y Susana," we're deposited in the slums of Mexico City without a map. This is a world where Susana (Vanessa Bauche) has to leave her baby boy in the care of her unsmiling mother-in-law, who grouses that she already raised her children and shouldn't have to raise another; the only alternative is to leave the baby with Susanna's own mother, who gets zonked on cheap wine while the baby screams in another room. Susana's husband Ramiro (Marco Pérez) works in a supermarket but brings home most of his bacon from store robberies; he's the classic macho Latino who would kill Susana if he found her with another man, but has no problem throwing a quick bang to a comely co-worker. Ramiro's brother Octavio (Gael García Bernal) also makes his money illegally, though his method -- pitting his Rottweiler against other dogs while hooting men bet on the outcome -- has more structure, and is probably officially ignored by the authorities. Aside from the fact that Ramiro is an abusive bastard and Octavio is a gentler soul, you can tell the difference between the brothers based on what they do after they've scored some cash. Ramiro brings home a Walkman for Susana and wakes the baby to give him his gift; Octavio simply hands Susana a wad of money, giving her a choice as to what she does with it, and takes care to leave the baby peacefully asleep.

Here and there in the first chapter, we see glimpses of Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), a magazine editor visibly bored with his wife and distant from his daughters, and Valeria (Goya Toledo), a model sparkling at us from a giant billboard and from a TV talk show; we don't really understand why until section two, "Daniel y Valeria," kicks in. These two, we come to learn, are an item: Daniel has left his wife and bought an apartment -- a decent one, despite the occasional hole in the floor -- for himself and the jubilant Valeria. González Iñárritu shifts gears radically: if the first segment was clouded over with the heat and steam of desperation, this one is cool to the touch. When Valeria is confined to a wheelchair, and her beloved doggie Richie disappears into one of the holes in the floor (ah, dear reader, after this sequence is over you won't care if you never hear the name "Richie" again), Daniel begins to crack: he's left his family, and for what? A hobbled model and a dog who may have become a snack for rats? To his credit, González Iñárritu takes this middle-upper-class anguish seriously after the much more down-to-earth torment of "Octavio y Susana." He's saying that no matter how rich or poor you are, fate -- and love -- will fuck you up.

Love seems to be beyond the grasp of El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), the grizzled anti-hero of the concluding segment, "El Chivo y Maru." But Maru is not one of his many loyal dogs who follow him around the city as he pushes his cart and sifts through the garbage; Maru is his long-estranged daughter, who believes him to be dead. El Chivo drifts through his existence, doing "jobs" (murders) for a dirty cop; his latest assignment is to execute one yuppie at the behest of another, though he has a Jules-like change of heart when he discovers the relationship between target and targeter. There's also a moment as fine as any in cinema when, after El Chivo returns home to find some carnage one of his dogs has wreaked, the black dog looks at him sadly and is thinking -- I swear he is -- "It's my nature. Why hate me for it? You're no different." From there, the story becomes about El Chivo's refutation of the dog's silent accusation; he even shears off his gray mop of hair and beard, and looks like such an entirely different person that even a man he has taken captive does a double take.

Amores Perros runs just over two and a half hours, and both times I've seen it the hours streaked by. There's a brief stretch -- during El Chivo's tailing of his target throughout the city -- where you may feel a slight tug of boredom; it feels too conventional, and is probably only there so we can hear a bit more Latino hip-hop mood music (the two-disc soundtrack album, already hard to come by, is worth the effort of tracking it down). Rodrigo Prieto's photography is unimpeachably drab and authentic -- finding beauty in blandness and ugliness and the lurid clutter of bedrooms -- save for one quick, apparently obligatory shot of the sky at dusk: the image might have impressed in a lesser movie, but in this one it stands out as banal. But Prieto also gives us one of the great closing shots: El Chivo and his sad, violent black dog leaving us for whatever the horizon offers.

I've left out a lot here -- including the nature of the aforementioned central accident and exactly how it affects everyone -- only to keep Amores Perros a virgin experience for the first-time viewer; ideally, you should go into it knowing absolutely nothing except that the excruciatingly convincing dogfight scenes were, indeed, skillfully faked. (And perhaps you shouldn't even know that; for its American release -- though not on the DVD -- the movie began with a disclaimer that no dogs were harmed during filming, as if we'd assume that those crazy Mexican filmmakers would destroy live dogs for realism.) In that respect, Amores Perros is a lot like Pulp Fiction, which also arrived garlanded with awards, critical hosannas, and buzz about its violence (in both cases, the violence hype was a bit overblown). But González Iñárritu is a more thoughtful filmmaker than Quentin Tarantino, whose best work slyly up-ends clichés and is deeply entertaining for that reason; González Iñárritu takes clichés and burrows around inside them, looking for the grain of truth -- the connection to reality -- that created them in the first place. As I say, it's early yet and I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but I don't anticipate seeing another debut film in the next eight years as richly textured, ambitious, deeply felt, and downright satisfying as Amores Perros. Alejandro González Iñárritu has thrown down the challenge. Anyone care to top it?




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