(Release Date: May 14, 2000 [Cannes Film Festival])
(Mexico Release Date: June 16, 2000)
(USA Release Date: March 30, 2001)
In Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu's Spanish Language Film Amores Perros those invisible ties spider web from a nightmare of a Car Crash that gives us an interlocking tale of the otherwise unrelated lives of a destitute assassin, a pampered supermodel with her married beau, and a young malcontented underground Dog-Fighter obsessed with his brother's kissable bride. As with Iñárritu's thematically similar 21 Grams there is a distinct flow to the stories that belies their alien natures, and the method of directing Guillermo Arriaga's well-paced screenplay makes what could have been a choppy experiment an excellent whole. On the other hand it's every bit as bright and sunny and hopeful as a mortuary invoice. Amores Perros is unquestionably a wonderful, story-driven film based in dialogue and great acting, but don't watch it if you're looking for a hearth-and-home uplifting family comedy! Love's a Bitch, baby!
Octavio (Gael García Bernal) has found himself in love with his abusive older brother's wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche). In his quest to spirit Susana and her child(ren) away from Big Brother Ramiro (the menacing Marco Pérez) Octavio dives headlong into the underworld of illegal dog fighting, the only real source of income he can fathom. Naturally the underground sporting community of Mexico City doesn't always attract the most kind and peaceful of human beings, so Octavio soon finds himself diving headlong into something else.
Octavio's story gives way to that of Valeria (Goya Toledo... and Holy Toledo!!!), a Spanish National who has become a Supermodel in Mexico. The first day of living with her legally married boyfriend Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) finds her modeling career coming to a crashing halt... literally. From that point the dominoes continue to fall at which point the viewer wonders what else might possibly go wrong for these people. A happy segment Amores Perros has not! However, like the "Octavio Y Susana" segment before it, "Daniel Y Valeria" is truly all about love, and that love isn't always pleasant! The title is never more poignant than in the second third.
The stunning third act of the film plays with time in a way not touched on nearly as much as in the first two-thirds. Here scruffy Emilio Echevarría introduces us to his character El Chivo, up to now seen only as a wandering derelict with an itchy trigger finger. Like the characters in the rest of the film, El Chivo is in love, but his love is unaware he's even alive. El Chivo inflicts pain and audience shock and witnesses that same shock and pain in his own life before a Hit job strikes a lot too close to home and his life changes forever.
As unrelated as these Jigsaw Pieces might smell to you, they work together like the Rainbow Coalition! The binding tie here is the theme of difficult love, and by that respect, it's as different from the later film 21 Grams (a film about death, essentially) as Darth Vader is different from Santa Claus! However, the method of artistically maintaining tension and drama through a meandering and changing amalgam of stories is exactly the sort of thing that Iñárritu is best at (and becoming known for).
Iñárritu and Arriaga have a somewhat casual and cuckolding relationship with time, and their nonlinear method of telling a tale (so very consuming in 21 Grams) seems to have gotten its start here. While overall much more a straight forward told story than 21 Grams, Amores Perros does hold back the parts of the story the audience shouldn't know yet, while often throwing in hints and teasers of what's to come. In that respect the unstuck-in-time motif is handled subtly and almost to perfection here. It's also used sparingly enough that there is very little confusion to the narrative. The message and the theme of the film are both intentionally made clear as a new windshield by our storytellers, and the actors themselves make damned sure the audience suffers along with them. And, just in case any of this suggestion is lost on you, Iñárritu and Arriaga fill every segment (and virtually every scene) with Dogs. As a none-too-subtle metaphor, the omnipresent "Love Dogs" effectively bring the story together and reflect the fact the film's theme of "Love's a Bitch!"
Art is not always uplifting or as shiny-happy as a Strawberry Shortcake Musical Retrospective, and it doesn't need to be. Amores Perros is bleak, sad, brutal, unpleasant, and is also truly artistic. You might not be comfortable, but you won't want to look away. Four and a Half Stars out of Five for Amores Perros! It's proof that lightening can indeed strike twice! Between this excellent film and 21 Grams the upward momentum of both Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga is assured, and in more than just the U.S. and Mexico. This team is the team to watch! And you'll want to watch... repeatedly!
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