Hounds of Love
A First-Time Director Unleashes a Brutal Bitch
What sticks with you after watching Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch), the Oscar-nominated, much-hyped debut by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, is the film's vivid, breathtaking, repulsive brutality. You remember the close-up of bubbling, hissing blood sizzling on a griddle, the grisly fallout of a shooting inside a crowded restaurant at lunch hour. You recall the dull, sickening thud of brawny canines colliding in the center of a back-alley dogfighting ring. And you recall how the image of two dogs bashing into each other resonates in the depiction of a car crash that serves as Amores Perros' centerpiece, echoing in screeching brakes, the deadpan crunch of metal, and the piercing vibrato of shattering glass. Then there's the crash victim trapped behind a windshield's pneumatic blue sheen, crying while blood runs down her face like a jagged crimson veil. The car accident is repeated three times, each time from a different perspective, and serves as the linchpin of Amores Perros' triad of overlapping, time-twisted tales about love and loss in Mexico City's fevered fast lane.
This is a stunning piece of filmmaking from start to finish, but let me get one pesky caveat out of the way: The film's violence probably will turn a lot of people off, mainly because animal cruelty (or, rather, what looks like it) is featured so prominently. The film's U.S. distributor, Lion's Gate, has gone to great pains to make audiences aware that the dogfighting scenes are simulated; a statement explaining this appears on-screen before the opening credits roll. Still, while González Iñárritu only shows the violence's aftermath, those moments when the camera rests on the limp carcass of yet another dead pooch, its coat matted in blood, quickly become excessive.
Amores Perros opens with an exhilarating, panicked car chase that results in the aforementioned collision. The events leading up to this pursuit are delineated in the film's first chapter, wherein a barrio punk with a limpid gaze named Octavio (Gael García Bernal) falls hard for his brother's battered teenage bride, Susana (Vanessa Bauche). Aside from a promise not to beat on her the way his philandering brother does, Octavio doesn't have much to offer the coquettish schoolgirl--until he starts plying her with the purses he's won entering the family's loyal but savage Rottweiler, Cofi, on the local dogfighting circuit. For a while everything's copacetic--Octavio gets the girl (however briefly), and Cofi reigns as the neighborhood badass. González Iñárritu, who was one of Mexico City's top DJs before moving into film, scores an exuberant montage that illustrates Octavio and Cofi's petty triumphs with an enticing mix of chest-thumping electronica and Mexican rap.
Between this and González Iñárritu's distinctive eye for sensual detail (you can almost taste the beans and rice shown sizzling on a stove), you're blissfully immersed in the film's kineticism and intoxicating resonance. The director mercifully avoids the detached, ironic posturing that characterizes other entries in the Tarantino school of intertwined narrative, fucked-up time frames, and cribbed influences. (Amores Perros has been heralded for combining Luis Buñuel's surrealism with Edgar Allan Poe's sense of the macabre, among other things.)
The film shows that actions have consequences (which is why its pervasive violence doesn't seem gratuitous), giving it a moral and ideological thrust rarely attained in U.S. cinema, in which plausible consequences are regarded as puritanical buzz-kills. In the film's third and strongest chapter, a middle-aged vagrant (Emilio Echevarria) adopts the injured Cofi at the scene of the car accident. El Chivo (the Goat), as he is called, is an ex-guerrilla turned contract killer who regrets having abandoned his family, particularly his young daughter, years before. Otherwise, El Chivo doesn't seem to demonstrate much remorse. However, his relationship with the instinctually murderous Cofi transforms his opinion about the value of human life.
The flick's second chapter is its weakest and draws attention to Amores Perros' other obvious drawback, besides its violence--its punishing, nearly three-hour running time. This drawn-out segment--about a successful fashion model (Goya Toledo) whose life is upended when she's injured in the car wreck--is the one that makes you feel the film's length the most. The first and last stories aren't necessarily symbiotic, but they are at least relevant to each other in some way; other than the traffic accident, the second section bears little relation to what comes before and after. Well, other than that once again we're treated to a shaggy-dog story: Tensions escalate when the model's pampered pooch becomes trapped beneath the floorboards of the apartment she shares with her new live-in boyfriend, a married magazine editor (Álvaro Guerrero). It's a vignette that seems out of place within the film's meticulously reconstructed realism, although it does offer a window into Mexico City's socioeconomic diversity.
Still, losing the second part of Amores Perros would shortchange screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's long-form, multitiered examination of existence and self-awareness in different stages of life: Those years when passion and youthful exuberance lead you take uncalculated risks; that midlife crunch when reality and responsibility settle in, no matter what you do to escape it; and then those older, wiser years when you're just trying to make peace with your past and get square with the universe. At 37, first-time director González Iñárritu seems to have a lot of wisdom to impart to his audience.