Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Emilio Echevarria, Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo, Vanessa Bauche
Reviewed Feb 15, 2006
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first feature caused quite a ripple of interest at the time of its release in 2001. It seemed to announce the arrival of a fresh voice on the filmmaking scene -- not to mention that of a young actor named Gael Garcia Bernal, who would leap to much greater prominence the next spring in Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien.
The promise shown in Amores Perros was largely borne out by Inarritu's subsequent 21 Grams (2003), which built on his unusual structural device of telling three connected, but separate, stories that finally interconnect. (That his forthcoming film, Babel, uses the same three-story approach, suggesting that Inarritu may have become mired in his own device, is another matter.) As is often the case, the accomplishments of a director's earlier work are thrown into even greater relief by a subsequent film.
Now it's possible to see where Inarritu was going with his audacious debut, giving Amores Perros more weight than it originally seemed to have -- and it always seemed pretty weighty. Inarritu's Bunuelesque approach originally seemed a little excessive -- like the filmmaker was trying to prove just how much he could accomplish in a too-confined space.
Seen again, the film moves and connects its three stories -- the dog-fighting story, the super-model story and the political idealist/hit-man story -- much more smoothly than a single viewing reveals. The relation of one narrative to the others is shrewdly developed -- and remains unusual in that the stories all stand on their own without the connecting threads, even though the connections are what gives the overall film its cumulative power. (Contrast this with Paul Haggis' often admirable, but preachy and wildly overrated Crash -- a film not enriched by subsequent viewings -- where everything is grounded in increasingly improbable coincidences.) Take the chance to reassess this remarkable piece of filmmaking before Babel comes out later this year. It might enhance both films.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke
This debut work from Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has received a great deal of critical praise and not undeservedly, because it is a startling first film. It would in fact be a starting film regardless of where it fell in a filmography. Gonzalez Inarritu is being likened to Quentin Tarantino (not entirely aptly) and Luis Bunuel (more to the point) and hailed as a major new filmmaker. Again, there is justification for this, even if it's hard to tell how major a filmmaker is based on one work -- not to mention the fact that Amores Perros (translated as Love's a Bitch) is also fairly typical of many first works in that it tries to encompass more than it probably should.
The idea of three stories that are interconnected by a car wreck is interesting enough, and Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga handle this deftly enough. The only problem is that Amores Perros is basically a portmanteau film -- a kind of anthology with some connection to a central event. Structurally, it's not as daring as, say, Bunuel's Phantom of Liberty, where the individual segments hook together because the filmmaker picks up on the next character when he or she happens to cross the same locale as the previous segment. Amores Perros is considerably more linear than it would like us to believe.
Even so, the director uses a challenging approach that you aren't apt to encounter every day and forces the audience into being something more than passive viewers. The stories do cross over, but are nonetheless complete in themselves and largely independent of each other.
The first story is about a barrio-living punk in love with his brother's much-abused wife, who, by a fluke, discovers his dog, Cofi, is a natural-born dogfighting champion. In the second, we follow the story of a supermodel who is injured in the crash (ultimately losing a leg, in obvious homage to Bunuel's Tristana) and the effect the event has not only on her, but on those around her who are more taken with her projected image than her "real" self (in this regard, the episode owes a debt to Fellini's The Tempation of Dr. Antonio). The third story -- and the one that is most connected to the rest of the film, since the character of El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) moves through each story at least as a background figure -- concerns a political idealist turned hit-man, who lives in self-inflicted poverty and has taken to rescuing and keeping some of Mexico City's large population of stray dogs.
Truth be told, dogs are much more the connecting thread to these stories than the accident itself, since dogs -- sometimes the same dog -- figure prominently in each story. In many ways, the first two stories are virtually background for the third story, which gets to the film's central thematic concerns: people who place a greater value on the lives of pets than on human life (this is also addressed in lesser fashion in the other stories) and how circumstances make us what we are.
It is altogether fitting that Cofi (a dog turned killer because it suits someone's needs) and El Chivo (an idealist turned killer when his ideals have robbed him of his wife and child) should end up together. Neither is inherently evil, but rather both have been "dehumanized" through circumstances, and both retain the seeds of what they were before. It is this theme that ultimately sets Gonzalez Inarritu's film -- and his vision -- far ahead of the work of Quentin Tarantino to whom he is being primarily compared. There is much more substance here and a grittiness that is utterly foreign in Tarantino's ultra-slick world.
The viewer should be warned that the film is extremely violent and the dogfight scenes are especially harrowing -- so much so that the film's standard disclaimer that no animals were harmed during its making is wisely at its beginning, rather than buried in the ending credits.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke