In 2000, the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of the 2015 Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer The Revenant), made an impressive debut in his home country with a fast-paced, gritty drama-thriller called Amores perros (“Love’s a Bitch”). The film garnered very positive reviews from critics and audiences and was screened at film festivals worldwide. It won the Ariel Award for Best Picture (conferred by the Mexican Academy of Film), a BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (which, that year, went to Ang Lee’s martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). In 2008, Amores perros was ranked at number 492 in the British film magazine Empire’s list of “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time”.
Amores perros is the first instalment in Iñárritu’s “Trilogy of Death”, which continues with 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006). The film is an example of “hyperlink cinema” – that is to say, it consists of multiple, disparate storylines that converge and collide at some place and point of time. Here, we find a triptych of narratives – (1) Octavio and Susana, (2) Daniel and Valeria and (3) El Chivo and Maru – that are connected through the opening scene of a horrific car accident and also by canine motifs that crop up throughout the film.
Iñárritu does not give us an exotic, exhilarating image of his country. We find no flamboyant skirts or sombrero hats or historic string instruments. We see, instead, the harsh realities of Mexico City projected on the screen in quick, sharp shots often accompanied by assertive contemporary Latin American rock and rap music.
The three segments of the movie contain characters that belong to different social backgrounds. In the foremost part, we meet the working-class Octavio (played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, who famously portrayed the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in the 2004 biopic The Motorcycle Diaries, a co-production between eight countries). Octavio, who is in love with the sweet and delicate Susana, wife of his ruffianly brother Ramiro, will resort to dog-fighting so that he can make money to elope and start a new life with his sister-in-law. Part two is the story of the supermodel Valeria, mistress of the magazine publisher Daniel, who, after breaking her leg in the accident shown at the beginning of the film, sits recuperating in a luxury apartment. A series of unfortunate events involving her beloved dog Richie injure her leg further, making amputation inevitable – an incident that shatters her career prospects and turns her from an asset into a liability overnight. Finally, in part three, the viewer encounters the old man El Chivo (“The Goat”), a professional hitman living in the squalid outskirts of the town where he cares for several mongrel dogs. An ex-school teacher whose idealistic guerrilla fighting has made him serve a twenty-year prison sentence, El Chivo had abandoned his daughter Maru when she was only two. His wife brought her up on the lie of her father’s death.
Loyalty and disloyalty (to people, to ideals) are the major themes running through the narratives – which is why the “dog” is such an integral component of the film. Amores perros is an unsettling yet stunningly bold cautionary tale. Iñárritu candidly exposes the the darkness and the disorder that is unleashed in the wake of moral failure but the film isn’t a misanthropic or nihilistic take on human nature. Room is made for redemption as some characters dwell upon their failings, while others make a genuine effort to rectify their lives.
Film critic Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times has written that Iñárritu
is unashamed to immerse this tough-minded, episodic film noir in freshets of melodrama. Significantly, he knows the minute difference between being unashamed and being shameless, and because he knows how to keep things hopping — working from an intricate script by Guillermo Arrianga that has a novelistic texture — we watch a man with immaculate control of the medium…”Amores” feels like the first classic of the new decade, with sequences that will probably make their way into history. The picture has the crowded humidity of a telenovela, but Mr. Gonzalez Inarritu doesn’t linger over the soap-operaish aspects.
Much violence, sexuality and coarse language makes the film inappropriate for those under 18 years of age. Watch the trailer below. It states:
Love is Betrayal, Love is Anguish, Love is Sin, Love is Selfishness, Love is Hope, Love is Pain, Love is Death. What is love? Love’s a Bitch
The title is veritably double-edged. Love must indeed be a bitch if by “bitch” we mean fidelity and devotion. But if the pursuit of love frustrates and ruins lives, then it must be a bitch – in this case, some really malicious, elusive and unforgiving phenomenon.
The Cinema of Latin America (2004) by Alberto Elena,
Cinemachismo: Masculinities and Sexuality in Mexican Films (2006) by Sergio de la Mora
Amores Perros (BFI Modern Classics) (2008) by Paul Julian Smith
Featured: Amores perros film poster, Zeta Entertainment/Alta Vista Films. No Copyright Infringement intended. Used for illustrative purposes only.
Other: Alejandro González Iñárritu by User “Blurpeace”, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons