"Amores Perros" (IMDb listing), directed by first time director Alenjandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is a brilliant new film that weaves together three distinct stories of urban angst into a gritty mosaic of filth, despair, rage and love. Set in present day Mexico City, a city exploding at the seams with abject poverty as well as unapologetic wealth, "Amores Perros" is a harrowing study of human behavior in times of emotional and physical distress.
The three segments in the movie are not three acts in the traditional sense of the Hollywood movie; they are three tales told not necessarily in order, but stories of peoples' lives coinciding and yet living independent of each other. In the first segment, "Octavio and Susana," a poverty-stricken young man named Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who is secretly in love with his brother Ramiro's (Marco Perez) wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche) attempts to steal her away to Ciudad Juarez. Octavio secretly plots with Susana to save up enough money in order to run away from their hopeless situation, cramped up in a squalid apartment shared by Ramiro and Octavio's mother. In order to do this, Octavio uses Ramiro's dog "Cofi" to pit him against other dogs in underground dogfights. As Ramiro becomes increasingly violent towards his pregnant wife and child, and Octavio makes jealous adversaries in the dog-fighting underworld, the situation comes to a violent head, culminating in a shooting and a harrowing car chase down the crowded streets of Mexico City.
The second story in the film, entitled "Daniel and Valeria," involves a successful magazine editor (Alvaro Guerrero) who leaves his wife and children to live with a beautiful model (Goya Toledo). Once again, a canine is involved, Valeria's prized lapdog. Complications from the aforementioned colossal car wreck leaves Valeria mostly crippled and physically scarred. Her beauty has been marred, leaving her modeling career in jeopardy. Meanwhile, her annoying little dog slips under the damaged floorboards of her new apartment. Daniel attempts to appease the crippled Valeria by searching for the dog, but the situation grows from bad to worse. The little dog fights against rats in the floorboards, wailing pitifully for minutes, then remaining silent for hours, even days at a time. As Valeria dwells upon her misfortunes, and stares out of her window at the enormous perfume ad which features her once beautiful body, she becomes increasingly more despondent and hysterical. The prospect of losing her life as a model, her trapped pet, and her clueless husband becomes too much for her to bear.
The third and most interesting tale is that of the reclusive hitman "El Chivo" (Emilio Echevarria) and his pack of homeless dogs, roaming the streets as a bum and taking the occasional contract in order to feed his dogs. This man with long, unwashed hair and filthy countenance, living in a rundown hovel with his army of filthy dogs, has a lonely life where he thinks only of his animal friends and his daughter, who has no idea he exists. Then one day, an enormous car wreck occurs during one of his assignments. El Chivo sifts through the wreckage after the broken, writhing bodies have been taken away, and finds Cofi, the wounded fighting dog. El Chivo's life is changed forever.
The scenes of vicious dogfighting will disturb most moviegoers, even with the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie which assures us that "no animals were harmed in the making of this film." Inarritu explores the relationship of dogs and their masters of varying socioeconomic classes. However, the director balances out the seemingly destructive behavior of the poor and their dogfights and the pampered excess of the rich by exploring the life of the mysterious El Chivo, the dog lover who lives a life of poverty even though he does not need to.
The true star of the film is the seedy cityscape of modern day Mexico City, as darkly violent and irrepressibly packed with living human debris as any place in the world. Through the eyes of Inarritu, Mexico City is as daunting an experience as the incessantly dark, foreboding streets of "Blade Runner." Except this is not a set, it's real. Set against a backdrop of pollution, overpopulation and crumbling buildings, Amores Perros is a violent film, but it is not senseless by any means. There are reasons behind the carnage, stories of love and desperation that unfortunately are interconnected with violence. The title of the movie is loosely translated in English as "Love's a Bitch" and you'll agree with the phrase when you see what becomes of this film's various characters.
"Amores Perros" is a voyeuristic, yet sensitive view into the underbelly of the underclass as well as the wealthy. This is not a Mexican film. This is a film for all of us, for we can relate to the pain and joy of each and every character as we live our own chaotic lives.
Filmfodder Grade: A