Emilio EchevarriaAlejandro Gonzalez InarrituGael Garcia BernalGoya Toledo
Amores Perros
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Keywords: Oscar-nominated
Language: Spanish
Country: Mexico
Actor: Emilio Echevarria, Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo, Alvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Jorge Salinas, Marco Perez, Rodrigo Murray, Humberto Busto, Gerardo Campbell, Rosa Maria Bianchi, Dunia Saldivar, Adriana Barraza, Jose Sefami, Lourdes Echevarria
Format: 154 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245712/
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 17 October 2010
Whoof. That was heavyweight. Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, this isn't recommended for those looking for casual entertainment. It's more than two and a half hours long, of which the first two-thirds is no fun at all. It's certainly an experience, I'll say that for it.
The first thing you need to know is the meaning of the title, which tends to get translated as "Love's a bitch". In fact the two words literally mean 1. "love", "all that's good in life", etc. and 2. "dog". "Love's a bitch" is appealingly idiomatic, but the director doesn't much like it as a translation. As with Yi yi: A One and a Two..., I'd guess there's no way of conveying the full meaning without actually writing an essay. Anyway, love and dogs are the two cornerstones of this film. People's behaviour towards dogs is contrasted with how they treat each other, with in every case the animals being as important as the human relationships. Warning: that doesn't make this a Disney film. Admittedly no one actually eats a dog, unlike Barking Dogs Never Bite, but there's an entire subplot set in the world of professional dog fighting and the movie carefully puts its "no animals were harmed in the making of this film" disclaimer in the opening credits instead of the closing ones.
Even that didn't stop the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals complaining to the British Board of Film Classification, by the way.
It's set in Mexico, with three stories that each feel like an entire film in their own right. Given that they'll sometimes overlap, they pretty much are. The first story involves a love triangle involving a violent criminal, his pushy brother and the wife of the former. This story is pretty grim to watch, with the criminal being scum and the brother being less aggressively unpleasant but still a dick. This is where we get the dog-fighting, not to mention armed robbery, shooting, stabbing and beating. These are the poor Mexican lower classes, but that's no excuse.
After that, the second story takes us upmarket. A magazine editor has dumped his wife and children to be with a beautiful fashion model. This is no fun either. He's a thoughtful, civilised man on the surface, but fundamentally he's about as trustworthy as that last lot of male protagonist scum. Watch those phone calls. To be fair he's genuinely trying to make a go of it, but then the movie kicks him and his girlfriend hard in the teeth several times for laughs and then watches them sink.
The third story involves the movie's only sympathetic male character (Emilio Echevarria), which is saying a lot since he's an apparently homeless bum who kills people for money and steals from car crash victims. He too has unrequited love, but not the usual kind. It's the love of a father for his child. Many years ago Echevarria was a husband and father, but then one day he became a guerilla, killed people and went to prison for twenty years. Now his daughter thinks he's dead. He wants to see her, but he can't. He knows that. However his story can't be about that alone, so we also see him (a) take a contract to whack someone and (b) rescue dogs. In contrast to the last two stories, this one's entertaining and sometimes even funny. This is our reward for slogging through the first two stories and it lets us finish the film feeling we've just had a satisfying movie-going experience, instead of (had they changed the order so this wasn't last) making us want to open our wrists.
Everyone makes terrible mistakes in this movie. The would-be sensitive brother has no idea how to handle his relationship with Vanessa Bauche, always being pushy and trying to make things happen now. The magazine editor, Alvaro Guerrero, pretty much wrecks his life through not realising that he could just take up a few floorboards properly. Come to think of it, they can't have been put down too well in the first place. Normal floors don't collapse when a supermodel walks on them.
Did I like this film? Um. Is it impressive? Hell, yes. You'll have a sense of achievement after watching it, but that third story is entertaining enough that it doesn't feel like a slog afterwards. The music helps. Apparently this is the first in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's trilogy of death, by the way, and was followed by 21 Grams and Babel. All involve intertwining stories and are more than two hours long. I think I'll be watching them too. Incidentally I'm reminded (structurally, not tonally) of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, for all you Thornton Wilder fans out there. It shouldn't need saying that Amores Perros isn't for everyone, but it's also clearly an important work of cinema and not something you'll forget in a hurry.