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Love’s a Bitch: Amores Perros

International Film Captures Essence of Mexico

By Jed Horne

Staff Writer

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez IÑiarritu

Screenplay written by Guillermo Arriaga

Starring Emilio EchevarrÍa, Gael GarcÍa Bernal, Goya Toledo, Alvaro Guerrero and Vanessa Bauche


It suddenly occurred to me that maybe Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, for all of its astute perceptions about the drug war, got it wrong when it came to depicting Mexico. For anyone who’s never been south of the border and, on the basis of Traffic, decides that Latin America is a little too dusty and yellow-tinged for their taste, my suggestion is to invest 20 bucks in seeing three movies out now that might change your mind. In order of increasing worthwhileness, those movies are: Blow, Before Night Falls, and the enigmatically titled Amores Perros.

Continuing a tradition that, to the best of my knowledge, began with the beautifully shot (and more subversive than Traffic) Three Kings, these recent additions to the art-movie genre take advantage of a very different cinematographic technique to emphasize the rich emotional landscape and physical reality of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Correctly, these films recognize that color-saturation and impressionism are cinematographic elements best suited to countries where even death and poverty are filled with color and hope.

When compared to the photography in Traffic reminiscent of 90-year-old daguerreotypes of the Mexican Revolution, it is clear that the two visions are mutually exclusive. My contention is that the impressionists have it right. And, I might add, any other way of looking at the situation helps perpetuate some of the worst stereotypes about Mexico that don’t make the fight against narcotraficantes any easier.

Amores Perros, on a purely visceral level, is masterful. Telenovela-style emotion is done up to great effect by a visual flair that is both gut-wrenchingly blood-soaked and beautiful. And despite the film’s pessimistic exterior and ploddingly inevitable descent into emotional rock-bottom (think Requiem for a Dream without drugs), the uniquely Latin fascination with hope shines through.

The film opens with a shakily-shot and horrifically violent car crash, the central plot element in a movie that has been compared structurally to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. The crash sequence is the link between three disparate urban-legend style stories bridging social and emotional divides.

The first of the film’s subplots, “Octavio and Susana,” is the reason that Amores Perros carries a disclaimer that no animals were harmed during the filming (anyone with a weak stomach, or a PETA card in their wallet, be warned). Desperately in love with his deadbeat brother’s abused wife Susana (Goya Toledo), Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) enters his dog Cofi in an underground dog fighting competition secretly helping Susana save money so she can escape Mexico City with him. Octavio’s relationship with Susana looks and feels like a fairy tale, but it is unmistakably infected with the hard-edged, fatalistic negativism of Requiem for a Dream.

Octavio’s nice-guy veneer and implacable optimism eventually lands him the disfavor of another group of dog-fighters, whose bloodlust is at fault during the film’s opening accident. Enter Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), a wealthy magazine executive whose love-affair with glamorous model Valeria (Vanessa Bauche) is tested when her leg is destroyed in the collision with Octavio’s car. Some of the movie’s funniest (and most emotionally charged) moments come at the expense of the crippled Valeria, forced to watch her former self on a billboard outside her window every day and tortured by the pathetic yips of her pampered dog Richie, caught under the floorboards after chasing a ball into a hole in the ground.

Hovering over the whole scene like a cross between a vulture and an angel is professor-turned-guerrilla-turned-crazy-homeless-guy/assassin El Chivo (Emilio EchevarrÍa), who witnesses the accident and saves Octavio’s dog, a life-changing moment and watershed in his relationship with his estranged ex-wife and daughter.

The film’s title, translated into English, is a little misleading: billed as “Love’s a Bitch” in American theatres, Amores Perros, in Spanish, is a double entendre. When pronounced amor esperros, the film’s title means, literally, “Love Hopes,” maybe a more apt description. But the point of the movie (and what is conveyed so effectively) is precisely that ambiguity familiar to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Latin American artistic and literary tradition. And it is precisely this tradition that makes a case for IÑiarritu’s vision over Soderbergh’s. Amores Perros’s outlook on life might as well have come straight out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Perfectly acted and paced by a mostly-on-target musical score, Amores Perros is richly deserving of all the accolades it has received, including a nomination for best foreign language film in last year’s Oscars, an award that I think it deserved infinitely more than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (one of my favorites for most overrated movie of the year). Crouching Tiger notwithstanding, the deserved impact that Amores Perros has made on the international film scene is certainly a plus for the fledgling art scene in Mexico and for cinema as a whole.