Tuesday 19 September 2006

Amores perros (2000) - ickleReview (cinema)

Debut feature by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who went on to make 21 Grams (2003). This film about dog owners, set in Mexico City (and hence in Spanish with English subtitles),is indebted in some respects to Quentin Tarantino in its structure of three interrelated stories told out of chronological order, which collide - in more ways than one - in a car crash at the beginning of the film, which recalls the crash scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) when Butch (Bruce Willis) runs over Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).

Octavio (Gael García aka Gael García Bernal) and his buddy are being chased in a car when the film opens. A body is bleeding on the back seat. Only later do we realize it is a fierce fighting dog called Cofi. In their attempts to escape their pursuers, they crash side-on into a car at a crossroads.

Octavio, we later learn, as the film goes back in time, has an infatuation with his sister-in-law, who has fallen pregnant for the second time and is afraid to tell her husband Ramiro (Cofi's owner), a violent, volatile thug who robs convenience stores and fucks checkout girls at the place he works. Octavio builds up a stash of money using Cofi in highly profitable dog fights and asks the sister-in-law to run away with him.

The second story, whose characters we have caught glimpses of already, is about a magazine editor who leaves his wife for a perfume model. They move into an apartment together, overlooked by one of her huge billboard advertisements. They have anything but a smooth start to their lives together and even lose her beloved dog, Richie, when he falls down a hole in the floorboards, chasing a ball.

The third story features a tramp, also a dog-owner, a former university professor who became a militiaman and now survives by doing contract killings. He, too, has appeared in the earlier stories and ends up nursing the wounded fighting dog, Cofi, back to health after the car crash. He claims to have given up being a hitman, but agrees to one more job, killing a man's partner.

The film is quite long at 153 minutes, but each story is engaging and could be a film in itself. It doesn't reflect very well on dog owners. (There is a disclaimer right at the beginning of the film that no animals were harmed during the making of the film. Usually this appears in the end credits.) The dogs become characters, a big influence on the lives of their owners in each stratum of society.

Iñárritu is a compelling storyteller, ingeniously linking the three stories. After the first crash, one can sense it coming from the other characters' points of view. One of the best aspects of this film, uncommon in Hollywood narratives, is the lack of plot resolution; but nevertheless it retains a sense of closure.

Nugget: a fresh way of storytelling. The title translates roughly as "Love's a Bitch", punning on "perros" meaning "dog". The main characters are all, of course, driven by the love of their dogs.

This review was also posted on Blogcritics.

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