Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Álvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Marco Pérez, Jorge Salinas, Rodrigo Murray
MPAA Rating: (for violence/gore, language and sexuality)
Running Time: 2:33
Release Date: 3/30/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
Amores Perros is roughly translated as "Love’s a Bitch," although I would argue a more appropriate and better translated title is "Dog Lovers." Of course, that title has an obvious way to be misinterpreted but try to think about it outside of that context. If anyone were to ask me, "What’s Amores Perros about," the only reasonable answer I can think of is love and dogs. The structure is a little more complicated, though. Taking three intertwining stories, the film weaves an intriguing tapestry of lives. We’re introduced to two young lovers, two disheartened lovers, and a mysterious old man. One of the young lovers fights dogs; one of the disheartened lovers loses a dog; and the old man takes care of many dogs. But there are much deeper things going on, and it’s interesting to connect the way that these people treat their dogs in relation to what’s going on in their lives. It all comes together at an intersection and a violent car accident.
The first of the stories relates how Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is desperately in love with his sister-in-law Susana (Vanessa Bauche), who is married to Ramiro (Marco Pérez), a violent hood. Octavio wants to get Susana and her baby out of the barrio, and he finds a way through local dog fights when Ramiro’s dog kills an extremely profitable champion after being provoked. The relationship grows and fights are won, and it all happens with intense style, extreme violence, and surprising tenderness. Of the three, this story is the most entertaining. We grow to care about Octavio and Susana, and when the tale and romance begins to take a turn for the worse, it’s also affecting. The movie opens with the car accident from Octavio’s perspective, and at the end of this story, we replay it, but this time we meet two more characters who have been subtly introduced beforehand.
Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) has left his wife and children to live in an apartment with a model named Valeria (Goya Toledo). Their life together starts out just as perfect as Daniel could hope, but then Valeria is paralyzed from the waist down in the aforementioned car accident. Daniel cares for her as much as he can, but during the day while he is at work, she is left alone in the apartment with her dog. One day, the dog finds his way into a hole in the floor and will not come out. The relationship takes a slow downward spiral as Valeria loses herself in depression, and Daniel learns that fantasy and reality are never the same. The middle story fits the film thematically, but on a story level, it seems separated from the rest. The tale stands on its own, though, as a study of delusion and impossible love. It’s intensely played by Guerrero and Toledo. He showing an impressive build from subtle to fierce in a scene where Daniel tears up the floorboards. She proving she is much more than a pretty face in a scene where she confronts her past life.
The final story delves into the character of "El Chivo" (Emilio Echevarría), or "The Goat." He’s a hitman hired to kill a businessman by the man’s brother. We’ve seen him work before and we know he’s highly proficient, but he keeps the man alive. Why he keeps him alive is, actually, quite predictable, and this series of events comes at a time when the movie already feels a bit too long. In the backdrop, though, is a mystery woman whom El Chivo keeps tabs on. If the first story is about young love and the second about false love, this story is about lost love, and indeed, a plea to the love near the end of the film is heart-wrenching. Echevarría carries this entire story. He has an immense presence that helps the character’s mysterious qualities, and then his emotional scene in the end is extraordinary.
Amores Perros will draw inevitable comparisons to Pulp Fiction, and while, yes, both do play with their timelines and intertwining stories, Amores Perros feels like a more mature experience. It is not nearly as successful in its plotting and the second story would serve better on its own than within this film, but Amores Perros is a strong and assured debut from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. And even with its flaws, it will be hard to find a film with as many complex characters inhabiting its world as this.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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