2000, R, 153 min. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Gael García Bernal, Jorge Salinas, Alvaro Guerrero, Emilio Echevarría, Vanessa Bauche, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Marco Pérez, Goya Toledo.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 13, 2001
If Amores Perros -- loosely translated as Love's a Bitch -- doesn't shake you up, then baby, you're already dead. An absolutely astonishing film from 37-year-old Mexican director Iñárritu, Amores Perros packs a complex emotional wallop that rivals the recent Traffic or Tarantino's Pulp Fiction -- the fact that it's Inarritu's first film makes it even more remarkable. Like a couple of other powerful debuts from the last decade (I'm thinking of American Beauty and Reservoir Dogs), its dark, almost surrealist tone escalates it high above the usual gory gunfare and marks it as a film to be reckoned with. A violent triptych of meditations on the futility of redemption in a world spun out of control (in this case, modern-day Mexico City), Amores Perros takes no prisoners, or perhaps just shoots them in the heart when your eye is elsewhere engaged. And still it has a bloody-but-unbowed corazón d'amor at its core. (The title made me think of Dominique Deruddere's 1987 Bukowski adapation L'Amour est un Chien de L'Enfer -- Love Is a Dog From Hell -- a far more accurate titling for Iñárritu's film, but what can you do?) Like Soderbergh's recent film and Tarantino's older one, Amores Perros interlaces three distinct tales around a single event, in this case a horrific traffic accident, and then plays fast and loose with structure and narrative to fill in the befores and afters. There's slum kid Octavio (Bernal), who, with a friend, enters his hulking rottweiler Cofi in the local dog fights and eventually wins (and loses) everything. In true telenovela fashion, he's also in love with his abusive brother Ramiro's (Pérez) wife (Bauche) and begs her to come away with him to the coast to open up a storefront using his dog fight winnings. Then there's the gorgeous model Valeria (Toledo) and her magazine editor lover Daniel (Guerrero) -- the aforementioned car crash acts as a terrible proving ground (for better or worse) for their romance. Finally there's a disheveled vagrant -- El Chivo, the goat -- played by legendary Mexican character actor Echevarría, who collects the city's homeless canines and occasionally moonlights as a hitman. Amores Perros has much, much more going on in its complexly linked plot, but I think the less viewers know going in the better off they're likely to be. One caveat, though: The film's portrayal of the brutal world of back alley dogfighting is ghastly (as it should be). Those averse to the sight of dead and dying canines should steer well clear, or at the very least be prepared to cover their eyes -- as with everything else in his film, Iñárritu's camera doesn't flinch from the mundane cruelties of the street. Entirely apart from the remarkable narrative, Amores Perros is also a triumph on virtually every other conceivable front. Rodriego Prieto's cinematography is unique to each storyline, sometimes garishly oversaturated, sometimes cloying and bittersweet. The powerful score and soundtrack fuse pounding rock en Español with muted tonalities and shocking silences, and virtually every single characterization -- in particular Echevarría and Bernal -- is affecting and masterful. Admittedly, this violent, ultimately grim film is not going to be to everyone's taste. But for those willing to submit to its terrible charms, it may be the single most important debut to come out of the Americas in years.