Amores Perros is a Mexican film marks the directorial debut of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga, the craftsman behind such acclaimed Hollywood successes as 21 Grams and Babel. It is perhaps no surprise then that this pairing, of inspired passion and experienced creativity, resulted in a film that won 52 of the 69 total awards in the year 2000, for which it was nominated world-wide, including the Best Picture from the Mexican Academy of Film and the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. But it is more than exceptional filmmaking that is responsible for the critical success of this film.
This is a triptych; an anthology film, sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Pulp Fiction”, containing three distinct stories which are connected by a car accident in Mexico City. Each of the three tales is also a reflection on the cruelty of humans toward animals and each other, showing how they may live dark or even hideous lives which depicts the social and economic stratification of life in modern day Mexico City, Amores Perros exhibits a host of cinematic techniques whose aim is to join form to content in an effort to convey the fractured nature of, and fracturing effects on, the individual and the family that life in this particular urban environment creates.
Amores Perros was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000 and won the Ariel Award for Best Picture from the Mexican Academy of Film. But the film’s theme is loyalty, as symbolized by the dog, “man’s best friend”. Dogs are important to the main characters in each of the three stories, and in each story various forms of human loyalty or disloyalty are shown; disloyalty to a brother by trying to seduce the brother’s wife, disloyalty to a wife by keeping a mistress with subsequent disloyalty to the mistress when she is injured and loses her beauty, loss of loyalty to youthful idealism and rediscovered loyalty to a daughter as a hit-man falls from and then attempts to regain grace.
The Plot is constructed from three distinct stories linked by a car accident that brings the characters briefly together. The first story opens with a chaotic car chase, and we’re introduced to one of this story’s two main characters, Octavio, who is driving, and his Rottweiler dog Cofi, who is bloody in the back seat, while Octavio’s friend Jorge desperately attempts to stem the bleeding, as the three flee from gun-toting thugs through the streets of Mexico City. Immediately, the turbulent, life-or-death nature of working class life in this city becomes evident. The chase ends with Octavio barreling through a red light and plowing into another car.
The flashback in with the working class household, where a mother lives with her two sons and the wife and child of one of those sons and a dog, Cofi. Ramiro (Marco Pérez) is the older son, who brutalizes both his wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche) and the younger son, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal). Ramiro works as a checker in a supermarket, but he makes his real living holding up drugstores. When Cofi kills the fighting dog of a nasty gang leader, Octavio gets drawn into the illegal world of dogfighting. He makes a lot of money and tries to get his brother’s wife to run away with him.
The second plot deals with Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), who leaves his wife and two daughters for an incredibly glamorous supermodel, Valeria (Goya Toledo), whose sexy picture is on billboards all around town. They set up housekeeping in a gorgeous apartment where she fawns on her beloved dog Richie, to whom she is “mommy.” Richie dives down through a hole in the floorboards and doesn’t come out and doesn’t come out. The crash leaves her with a badly broken leg that eventually has to be amputated because she keeps walking on the leg, trying to get Richie out. End of modeling career and down come the sexy pictures.
The problems of the upper class, like those of the working class as explored in the first story, play a central role in the second story, but they are problems of a completely different order. Daniel, a successful magazine editor, is committing adultery with Valeria. Whereas in the first story the father is absent altogether, in this story Daniel’s relative wealth allows him to support both his family and the purchase of an upscale apartment for himself and Valeria. But, as he makes the choice to leave his family for his mistress, the facade of wealth begins to crumble. This is a clear indication of the artificial and cosmetic nature of celebrity life in Mexico City.
The third plot deals with El Chivo or “the goat” (Emilio Echevarría), an abandoned, who wheels his cart around the city trailed by his four dogs. Years ago El Chivo had abandoned his family to become a guerrilla in some unnamed ideological quest to save the world. Having failed at that, he has fallen in cynicism and exploits the freedom and lack of accountability for his actions that his life on the outskirts of society. Having served twenty years in prison, he now makes his living as a hired killer with a corrupt cop as his go-between. After one killing, he draws glasses on a picture of his victim to make him look like his own earlier self; he is killing his former bourgeois self. In this plot he is hired by one brother to kill his half-brother (another pair of brothers who hate each other). El Chivo witnesses the crash, steals Octavio’s money, and rescues Octavio’s dog Cofi who has been shot.
The final plot is the ‘Greater than the Sum of its Parts’. We see the clear and convolutedly constructed illustrations of the stratified layers of life in Mexico City, that’s the degree of three separate stories, if they weren’t connected by equally clear means. Octavio waits in vain at the bus station for Susana. Valeria stares bitterly as the billboard where her picture used to be. And El Chivo sets out with Cofi across a black wasteland, criss-crossed with a network like the complicated interconnections in this film and, I would say, in life. We see the immense disappointment and desolated they are and all three plot deal with love, but always a failed love. Susana refuses to run off with Octavio. Valeria, it turns out, loves her dog more than her new lover, Daniel. And El Chivo cannot connect with the daughter he has longed for so many years.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez not only shows the isolation of the main characters, but has viewed into cohesive whole that mirror the actual situation in this modern city. This is done in several ways, both structurally, and thoroughly through the immense meticulous film crafting. Absolutely wonderful is the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto, who used different styles for the three plots. The Octavio plot relies heavily on extreme close-ups in which a single face or even a part of a face fills the screen. Valeria is mostly photographed in the middle distance where most TV shows are photographed, and we have the inevitable long shots for the El Chivo’s plot as he prowls the city and looks for his daughter and his victims from a distance. The Director and photographer duo choose the different look of stocks, including the color with a bluer toned film for the Octavio and El Chivo plots and a warmer tone for Valeria. As for the crucial car crash, Alejandro Gonzalez staged it only once, but he used nine cameras.
The other important things that strike us about this film are the way the three plots get mixed into one another. Critics speak of the “penetrations” or “intersections” of the stories. You’ll see El Chivo pushing his cart along as one of the dog fights breaks up. All the time you see billboards or magazine pictures of Valeria. When El Chivo goes out to kill, he passes Ramiro and Susana on the street. All the characters and all the social classes intersect on the streets, which looks so real in any urban dwelling. The film also is the reminder of the world we live in every human event is somehow subtly connected to every other human event.
Alejandro Gonzalez, one of the admirers of Kieslowski’s films honors the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who uses intersections this way to suggest a divine presence behind the web of individual human events and this is very well inspired. There are so many things going in the film and tend to observe the nuances. For example the characters of dog in the film, which naturally symbolizes faithfulness and can both feel and receive unconditional, uncomplicated love, unlike human being. The crash symbolizes family crack-ups. In all three stories, fathers or would-be fathers fail. That is, Octavio loves the baby and wants to father another, but he tries to do it by taking his brother’s place. This brother and father abuses Octavio, abuses his wife, but it is he whom his mother favors. Daniel abandons his true role as a father to his daughters and becomes a pseudo-father to the dog Richie who, ultimately, annoys him as much as his daughters did. El Chivo left his family to pursue his dream of setting the world right and sharing it with his daughter. Now, over twenty years later, he wants to reunite with the daughter and be a father again, but he cannot bring himself to do it. All three stories end with the chief character alone and fraught and I’m sure this is the trumping film making at the best.
Lastly the connections symbolizes so every moment of our life, as our connections go organic to biological to chemistry, either way condescending the life unknown and so the truth constantly are paradoxical and in short It’s a movie that knocks the wind out of you, sure, but its complexity leaves a mark, too. Brilliant and must see