Hoping to raise enough money so he can run away with his sister-in-law, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) enters his dog into a series of illegal fights. A former freedom fighter, El Chivo (Emilio Echevarrio) now keeps company with a pack of stray dogs and earns money as a hit man. Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), a successful magazine editor, dumps his family for a fairy tale life with a beautiful model (Goya Toledo). All these characters’ lives intersect and change forever with a single car crash.
“Amores Perros” (“Love’s a Bitch”) received a 2000 Oscar nomination for best foreign film. A powerful and not-very-easily forgotten effort, “Amores” probably lost to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” because this Mexican hard-hitter strips its material to the marrow. It’s disturbing, visceral and in your face but contains a reality and truth not often seen in the cineplex.
Through the vision of writer Guillermo Arriaga and first-time director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the audience witnesses the violence and harsh urban realities that comprise Mexico.
Because this film exhibits a raw quality and sharp edge, comparisons will be probably be made to Quentin Tarantino’s films.
But Inarritu is in a league of his own. Making this film a true original.
The 153-minute “Amores” is divided into three parts. In the first, we see dysfunctionality in action. Susana (Vanessa Bauche), a high school-age mother, is married to Ramiro (Marco Perez), a volatile psychopath who gets extra money by robbing stores. His brother, Octavio, is a dreamer who wants to save this child-bride. But Susana can’t be saved. And there is no running to greener pastures. As she tells Octavio, “When you tell God your dreams, he laughs.”
El Chivo, another idealist, threw away everything in his youth for a greater cause; to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, that never happened, and instead he finds himself crazy and alone. A police officer took pity on him and set him up in an abandoned building. In return, El Chivo dispatches whomever gets in the way. This transient’s life takes a new direction when he comes across his wife’s obituary in the newspaper. He gets a new quest – to get back all he has let slip away.
Finally, Daniel throws aside his wife for what looks like a life of eternal bliss. But paradise’s gold turns to brass when catastrophe strikes and his lovely, sweet amour is permanently altered.
Arriaga’s script begins in the middle then twists around to the beginning then back again. So, the first five minutes, which take place before the big smash, are pure adrenaline and chaos. As the film progresses, the stories unfold like the petals of an onion, revealing to us more of where we’re going and where we’ve been. I believe the best screenwriters aren’t afraid of getting into the emotional muck and wading in it up to the neck. This one goes under the surface a few times, then comes back up, gasping for air.
Arriaga’s characters are well written and even when they are acting repugnantly, they continue to grip our attention.
Additional credit goes to these phenomenal actors. Bernal captures the innocence and feverish insanity of his character’s feelings. He loves so much he will sacrifice everything he has, including his dog and brother. The character is nave about the stinging tail of obsession and even though we know he’s headed for a fall, we still empathize with him when it happens.
Perez, too, impresses us with his depths of crude animalism. He’s as seductive as he is terrifying.
Bauche charms us with her angelic face and fragile manner. We want this girl rescued, until she turns out as disturbed as everyone else. And then we are left with the wreckage that is these characters’ lives.
Echevarrio proves the most captivating presence in this film and, in fact, has the most absorbing story. He’s a killer with profound love and respect for his dogs and a father who wants nothing more than to heal his past. He could be Octavio in about 50 years. His story contains elements of humor and the most cruel consequences of a kind heart.
As the affluent couple with everything, Toledo and Guerreros’ story isn’t as effective, partially because their problem stems from superficiality and the belief that beauty can make a person happy.
As gripping as this film is, animal lovers should be warned before watching it. It contains realistic scenes of dog fighting and more. And although an afterward says everything was simulated, you’ll have a difficult time believing it. During some scenes you’ll sit motionless as if rendered immobile by a stun gun.
“Amores” is one film that makes a definite impression on the viewer, particularly because it challenges one’s ideas about relationships and the consequences of a person’s actions. It also delivers you into the den of human frailty and fallibility.
Inarritu received high praise for this debut, winning nominations and awards at numerous film festivals in Chicago, Cannes, Bogata, Flanders, Havana, Los Angeles and Edinburgh. The praise was well deserved. Furthermore, he joins the ranks of other exciting filmmakers from Mexico, such directors Guillermo del Toro (“Cronos”) and Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate”) and cinematographers Guillermo Navarro and Emmanuel Lubezki, who also are enriching and enhancing the cinematic experience.
Let’s hope Inarritu chooses his next project as carefully as he did this one.
“Amores Perros” is rated R for violence, gore, language and sexuality.