Amores Perros

“Amores Perros” begins with a warning, for it’s important to know that no animals were hurt during the making of the film. Usually such a warning comes at the end of the film. The warning is appropriate and necessary. Without it, it would be impossible to enjoy what is definitely one of the most dynamic debuts of a new director in years.

Taking their cue from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Iniarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga have created a remarkably entertaining and energetic film of immense power and emotion. “Amores Perros” is truly the first great film to come out of Mexico.
amores perros
The filmmakers waste no time throwing us into the middle of the action. We’re immediately catapulted into a screeching high-speed car chase. We don’t know anything about the participants, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. All we know is that for the occupants of the car being chased, it’s a life or death situation.

As their pursuers zip in and out of afternoon traffic through Mexico City, guns blazing, the pursued dodge the bullets as a man in the backseat tends to an injured dog. Blood is everywhere. Total chaos ensues as the lead car, in an attempt to escape, barrels through a red traffic light, plowing violently into another vehicle. Glass, metal and blood spray the intersection.

Iniarritu and Arriaga use the intersection as a metaphor for life in Mexico. It’s here that the filmmakers bring together their three separate storylines. “Amores Perros” is steeped in such rich symbolism. Like Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” which cleverly tweaked story narrative and time frames, “Amores Perros” connects three different stories through circumstance. The characters don’t know each other, but their past, present and futures are sealed by the collision.

Despite their economic differences, the three leading male characters all share the same passion for their women and dogs. The irony is not lost on the viewer. Loosely translated, the film’s title means “Love’s a Bitch.” Taken at face value, it would seem like an insult. It’s not. The filmmakers treat the female characters with high regard. They’re the only innocents in all of this. It’s because of them that the men in their lives do the things that they do.

Like Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who lives in a low-income apartment with his mother, his brother Ramiro, Ramiro’s teenage wife Susana, and their newborn baby. Octavio is in love with Susana, who finds his kindness a welcome change from Ramiro’s heavy hand. Still, Susana is not ready to leave Ramiro, especially for Octavio, who has no money. Octavio hopes to change all of that by entering the family dog Cofi in an illegal dogfight. Cofi wins, and keeps winning, lining Octavio’s pockets with enough money to whisk Susana away from their miserable existence.

While escaping from a bad situation, Octavio runs into Valeria (Goya Toledo), a beautiful actress and model who has just moved in with her boyfriend, a married television producer named Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero). Daniel has just left his wife and family to share a comfortable apartment with Valeria and her dog. Despite a shortage of money, the two seem happy enough. Then Valeria’s dog gets trapped in the floorboards of their apartment and all hell breaks loose.

The final story, and the film’s best, deals with a seemingly homeless man named El Chivo, who roams the streets with his cart and band of dogs. El Chivo (Emilio Echevarr¡a) filters through the first two stories, but once the filmmakers focus on him, we learn that looks can be deceiving. Once a former revolutionary, El Chivo now works as a gun for hire. His look and attire serve as the perfect cover. No one wants to know him, much less look at him.

That doesn’t bother him. He prefers the company of his dogs to that of humans. Except one. His daughter, whom he abandoned early in life when he went to prison. She thinks he’s dead. He keeps his distance, hoping one day he will be able to rise from the grave. Until then, he has to fulfill a job involving a businessman who wants his partner dead.

Throughout the film, we learn so much about the characters and their motives. While it may seem like the men in the film are driven by greed, it’s actually love that guides them. Octavio isn’t using Cofi to get rich, he’s risking the dog’s life to win the love of Susana.

Daniel doesn’t care about money. He can’t even afford to have the apartment’s wood floor fixed. He’s in love with Valeria and her beauty, so much so that he chooses an apartment across the street from a huge billboard of her. How that billboard comes back to haunt the couple is just one of the film’s many striking images.

Indeed, “Amores Perros” is filled with outrageous cinematic flourishes that help draw us into the action. The photography and editing are exciting and vigorous. The filmmakers aren’t content with making us observers. They demand that we participate in the action. The camera takes us places and shows us things that most of us have never seen before.

Each and every character becomes flesh and blood. Director Iniarritu has chosen a cast of remarkable actors who deliver seamless performances. Not once during the film’s 158 minute length do you ever feel like you’re watching someone act. Instead, you marvel at how passionate and alive these people are. The great Mexican actor Emilio Echevarr¡a is the film’s standout. His transformation forces us to take check on our feelings towards strangers.

The dogfights are hard to watch, but they are vital to the story. Knowing that the carnage is staged helps, but the images are still disturbing. Animal lovers will definitely have a tough time. These scenes help the filmmakers establish that life in Mexico, like most places, is a dog-eat-dog world.


New director does Tarantino doggie-style


Emilio Echevarr¡a, Gael Garc¡a Bernal, Vanessa Bauche, Goya Toledo, Jorge Salinas, Marco Perez, Rodrigo Murray. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iniarritu. 151 Minutes. Rated R.


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