Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Mexico, 2000)
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001.
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vanessa Bauche, Álvaro Guerrero Goya Toledo, Emilio Echevarría, Lourdes Echevarría.
From its high impact opening sequence featuring an adrenaline fuelled car journey right through to its closing credits, Amores Perros is a film which combines extreme emotion and intense drama within a clever narrative structure.
Indeed, it is interesting to note how Iñárritu’s later films 21 Grams and Babel follow a similar plot template to that displayed in Amores Perros; slowly revealing through flashbacks how a single catastrophic event affects three seemingly unconnected groups of people. This technique of showing splintered lives brought together by catastrophe makes us question how we may connect with other people in ways we may not realise.
The story with which the film opens is that of Octavio and Susana. Gael García Bernal gives an intense and moving performance as Octavio, the young man in love with his brother’s wife, Susanna. Octavio is desperately trying to persuade her to leave her violent husband and come away with him. Yet the money he collects for them to go away together is blood money, collected via ultra violent dog fights where they must fight to the death. In the world depicted in this film, where there is passion, there must also be violence.
The music to the film is perfectly pitched throughout. The car chase sequences are master-classes in how sound can be used for maximum dramatic effect; exactly mirroring the action taking place on screen. During the car chases, the music is almost deafening when the action is inside the car adding to the overall confusion. When the exterior of the car is shown, the music is then muffled with the sound of the engine being the dominating noise. Combine this variation in the sound with very quickly edited shots, and the result is an exhilarating, fast moving sequence.
There are no glossy glamour Hollywood shots in this film. Instead, the camera frequently moves in uncomfortably closely to the characters. The shots are jerky, uncertain; some of the scenes are grainy. This roughness in the filming style makes the repeated brutality more shockingly realistic.
The violence in the film is frequent. Although much of it is suggested rather than graphicly shown, it is unrelenting. The dogs may brutally fight each other to the death in set piece dog fights, yet the dogs fight because they know no better, they fight to please their masters. The humans do not have that excuse – they fight and they know the destruction their actions will cause.
The tone is very dark throughout. People suffer and die, families betray each other, dogs are made to fight in cruel set matches, and a possible redeeming chance of love is not taken.
Yet, for all its darkness, this remains a compelling piece of cinema.
What the title means
The film was relapsed under its Spanish title in the English speaking world. The title has been translated as ‘Love’s a Bitch’. However, in a 2001 interview on National Public Radio, Iñárritu pointed out that Love's a Bitch is an American English idiom, and therefore not a satisfactory translation of the title - even if it does make a punning reference to the canines who will feature so heavily in the film. Iñárritu said he would translate the title more accurately as 'love that hurts', or 'love is tough'.
The Dog Fights
Although the dog fights are brutal and upsetting to watch, the film earned the Humane Society's highest endorsement for the way it filmed the sequences.