Amores Perros (2000) Movie Review

“Amores Perros” (which roughly translates as ‘Love’s a bitch’) was the feature debut of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who later went Hollywood with the gritty gloom of “21 Grams”. The film has earned a great deal of praise from critics around the world, as well as picking up awards at numerous festivals, most notably Cannes and Venice, and was also nominated in the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category at the Oscars. A gritty urban drama that is essentially a collection of three stories with interwoven plots, “Amores Perros” has won some obvious comparisons with Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”, though Inarritu’s film is a far more emotional tale, and is told in a style which though technically accomplished and visually rich, is less dependent upon flashy gimmickry and narrative tricks.

“Amores Perros” features a genuine attempt to explore the darker side of the human condition, primarily through the effective use of dogs as metaphors for the animalistic behaviour in man which so often leads to tragedy and violence. The result is an excellent, heartfelt and moving film which, although at times drenched with blood and shocking cruelty, never loses sight of its realistic characters or its painfully human core.

The plot begins with a tragic car accident in Mexico City, and proceeds to follow its effects on the lives of three people. The first is Octavio (Gael García, recently in “The Motorcycle Diaries”), a teenager who turns to dog fighting in order to raise the money needed to rescue his brother’s wife from her abusive marriage. The second tale is a darkly comic affair which involves Valeria (Goya Toledo, also in the serial killer thriller “Killing Words”), a Spanish model and one of the actual victims of the accident, whose dog disappears under the floorboards of her new flat. She desperately searches for the poor creature, whose pitiful howls haunt her every move, while her relationship with her married lover gradually falls apart. The final tale is that of El Chivo (played by Emilio Echevarria, recently in “The Alamo”), an aging assassin and former political revolutionary who lives a spartan life on the streets, content to survive on whatever fate throws his way.

Inarritu handles the three-part structure effectively and efficiently, allowing the narratives to overlap whilst never letting things become unrealistically convoluted. This works well, enabling the director to include three tales which, though thematically and narratively linked, are quite different in terms of mood and style. The film as a whole is complex, with a number of chronological leaps that never falls into confusion or the overbearing sense of self-importance that frequently afflicts debut filmmakers.
All three tales are very well written, with rich, sympathetic characters and some well observed details and philosophical musings on the nature of humanity. Of course, since the film is concerned with the more unpleasant aspects of life, it does quite frequently make for depressing viewing, though thankfully it is elegantly so and with an air of honesty, since Inarritu never settles for gratuitous angst or emotional cheap shots. The film also has a sharp intellectual edge, especially during the final section, in which political and social criticism come to the fore.

Inarritu is an excellent director, and as well as managing to keep the film moving briskly throughout its considerable length, he includes some striking images and scenes of incredible, yet unobtrusive beauty. He makes full use of the urban setting, highlighting the differences between the living conditions of the rich, poor and homeless as an ironic counterpart to the similarities in their behaviour. The action scenes are very well handled, being short and brutal rather than drawn out, and are inserted into the plot at unexpected intervals, giving an uncomfortable and tense atmosphere which leaves the viewer in no doubt that violence could strike at any moment.

“Amores Perros” is a brutal film, especially in its initial scenes of dog fighting, which are intense and disturbing. There are a number of other bloody scenes in the film, including a few shoot-outs, though none are gratuitous or feel out of place. Inarritu uses violence sparingly yet forcefully, underlining the viciousness of human nature rather than simply reveling in its effects and consequences. This is a remarkably mature approach for an emerging filmmaker, and one which serves him well, lending “Amores Perros” a thoughtful, realistic air and ensuing that it engages on a number of levels.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (director) / Guillermo Arriaga (screenplay)
CAST: Emilio Echevarría …. El Chivo
Gael García Bernal …. Octavio
Goya Toledo …. Valeria
Álvaro Guerrero …. Daniel
Vanessa Bauche …. Susana

Buy Amores Perros on DVD