Amores Perros (2000) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, language and sexuality
Running Time: 153 min.
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo, Alvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga
Review published April 3, 2003
"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."
So says Susana, as played by Vanessa Bauche, during one of Amores Perros more poignant moments. If this axiom is true, God must be laughing quite a bit at the three main joined stories which provide the basis for this pessimistic look at love and death, which many will compare with the works of Quentin Tarantino in its structure (like Pulp Fiction) and certain key scenes (a torture scene is very reminiscent of the infamous one found in Reservoir Dogs).
The alternate English title for this film is Love's a Bitch, and Guillermo Arriaga's complex, sometime allegorical screenplay contains plenty of dogs around, sometimes the objects of love, and sometimes the obstacle to it. While other films extol the virtues of love as the great motivator and key to ultimate happiness, this one concentrates on the flip side of the coin, where love leads to misery, death and despair. You'd think such a bitter pill would make this a long and unentertaining experience, but it's quite the opposite. With direction this adept, a script this rich, characterizations this acute, and performances this terrific, Amores Perros is not only a tour-de-force of talent, but it's also one of the most engaging, and entertaining, films of the year.
Although divided into three parts, the film connects the stories around one car crash which alters dramatically the lives of all involved. The film starts off with the story of Octavio, who has a thing for his abusive brother's wife, and through his pursuit of her decides to win her over with money, thanks to the dog fighting talent of their dog, Cofi. The opening scene finds Cofi bleeding to death in the backseat of a car, while Octavio is driving madly to outrun some assorted baddies until finally crashing into the vehicle of the woman involved in the second story of the film. She is Valeria, one of Mexico's hottest models, who has just moved into a dilapidated apartment with Daniel, who has left his wife to be with her. The accident strains the relationship because of the constant physical pain Valeria is in due to her legs being all but severed in the crash, and then the emotional pain of losing her dog into a hole in the floor caused by the lack of needed repairs. The final third of the film involves El Chivo, a homeless, dog-loving man who was witness to the accident, who gave up his life with his wife and daughter to pursue a cause as a master terrorist and assassin. He constantly pines over the relationship he has never had with his now adult daughter, and gets the money to hopefully allow him to set things straight with one more hit.
Although this is undoubtedly a sour film in message, there are many terrifically funny moments amid the tragedy, the sort of irreverent, crazy tone that Tarantino did so well in the aforementioned Pulp Fiction. As good as the film is, there's just no getting around the fact that it is a clone of that film, even if it differs thematically, so some may be put off with the feeling of deja vu on the construct and feeling of watching this. However, sometimes an imitation is so well-made that it becomes just as appealing as the original to the eye of the beholder, and Amores Perros is probably the best of the sons of Pulp Fiction to date. The direction is inspired, the screenplay sparkles with life, and the actors deliver performances that would be worthy of Oscar talk, if it had been more popular here in the States.
Amores Perros is definitely not for everyone, as it is not only a heartbreaking experience in its stories, but is also hard to watch for the treatment of the canine members of the cast. Although there is a blurb at the beginning that no animals were harmed, the storyline all showcase some tragic, abusive treatment of dogs, some of which evoke as much sadness in their plights as the human counterparts do in theirs. If you are able to sit through such scenes, which aren't nearly as graphic as they could have been, you will be rewarded with one of the most ambitious, and infinitely intriguing, films of recent years.
Love might be a bitch, so you'll be thankful for what you have after watching what turns out to be a cathartic experience while in the company of misery. Unlike these characters, don't revolve your life around making plans to gain it, or be prepared to hear the haunting sounds of laughter from above.
©2003 Vince Leo