Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Amores Perros” is quite easily the best movie I’ve seen this year. Its release in U.S. theaters was so limited that I did not hear of it until its recent release on DVD.
The film was shot entirely in Mexico City, and although its subject matter relates most closely to Mexican culture, it is, to quote the director, so “fiercely human” that it crashes through any possible cultural barriers and touches the heart.
“Amores Perros,” translated in the subtitles as “Love is a Bitch” employs the “Pulp Fiction” format of telling the stories of different people, intertwined through coincidence.
There are three basic storylines in the film, all dealing with the different kinds of love and hate that people can feel toward each other, often shown through their relationships with their dogs.
The first act, called “Octavio and Susana,” focuses on a man who falls in love with the wife of his brother and resorts to putting his rottweiler Cofi into dog fights. These fights, as well as the interaction of dogs with people throughout the film are potent metaphors for how people act towards each other, often with blind and brutal hatred, neglect, dependence or love and friendship.
An important note on this segment is the significance attributed to being able to provide for one’s family. Although Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is brighter than his brother, as well as kinder and not ill-tempered, Susana (Vanessa Bauche) feels that the most important thing to her is being able to sustain her child and herself at the cost of being beaten by her husband.
The second story, called “Daniel and Valeria” is about a wealthy television producer who leaves his family for a beautiful model.
Their romance is tested when Valeria (Goya Toledo) suffers severe injuries in an automobile accident, an accident that ties in all three strands of the film. The couple’s struggle can be seen through what happens when Valeria’s dog Richie disappears through a hole in the floor and cannot be found for days.
Sometimes Valeria thinks she hears him and sometimes she is convinced that he has been eaten by the rats.
Consider the symbolic value of a brand-new home having a huge hole in a weak floor and thousands of rats living below.
Still, there is a great deal of ambivalence in Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) and Valeria’s relationship. She cannot be written off as a trophy wife of an unstable man experiencing a mid-life crisis, yet that diagnosis is often tempting.
The last part of the narrative is called “Chivo and Maru.” It is about a man who had many years ago left his wife and daughter to become a guerilla, but after becoming disenchanted with the values of that life, settled in a shack in Mexico City, caring for stray dogs and accepting assignments to murder people for hire.
One of the movie’s most intense scenes shows Chivo (Emilio Echevarria), who in an earlier scene declined to wear his glasses, putting them on only for a brief moment to look at a picture of his daughter above his bed.
The characters in “Amores Perros” are original and well developed. The story, based on unlikely coincidences, is believable and very gritty.
The film does not tie all of its loose ends, with the intention of letting the viewer draw some conclusions for himself. The overall experience and the feeling that the movie leaves the viewer with is amazing.
As a warning, no animals were harmed in the filming of “Amo-res Perros.” However, the film will not be a favorite among PETA activists, as a good 10 minutes of footage is of dead or dying dogs.
Bavli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.