Amores Perros review: Brutal and breathless
Ivan Radford | On 29, Apr 2020
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Bauche, Goya Toledo, Emilio Echevarría
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A film in which several people’s lives criss-cross and collide? Today, that idea might sound tired and familiar, but in 2000, it added a rush of bold energy to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. Not that it needs any additional energy – this thriller is a visceral feat of filmmaking.
The director’s remarkable, vivid debut is a violent affair, too violent for some, not least because it begins by immersing us in Mexico City’s dog-fighting circles, where cruel owners put man’s best friend into decidedly unfriendly confrontations. It’s an unsettling snapshot of an underground culture that feels all the more barbaric for Iñárritu’s brief snatches of the canine combat (no dogs were harmed, the filmmakers insist) – a reminder of how ruthless the dog-eat-dog world of the city is for the humans who also reside there.
Those human lives are thrown into sharp relief by the car crash that brings all three strands together. Inside the car is Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who is struggling to make ends meet, and also struggling to come to terms with his secret feelings for Susana (Vanessa Bauche), the wife of his brother, Ramiro (Marco Perez). “Give me your dog and I’ll forget it,” threatens one hoodlum whom they owe money too, but Octavio laughs at the very notion – in this world, that relationship is as valuable and intimate as any human tie, and Octavio’s fondness for Cofi grows even as he becomes a means by which he can raise the funds to run away with Susana.
It’s a superb performance by Bernal in his feature debut, before he would go on to star in Y Tu Mama Tambien. He has the same authenticity that has always marked his intense screen presence, at once brooding, angry and naive – matched by the vulnerable but tough turn by Bauche.
At the other end of the social ladder is Valeria (Goya Toledo), a model who moves in to a lush new flat, but finds her dream life undone by the harrowing disappearance of her dog under the floorboards – a dark twist of events that, in what is surely no coincidence, brings to mind Edgar Allen Poe.
In between, and outside, of them both is El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), a wandering man who appears to be homeless, but is also a hitman for hire. His only companions in his reclusive, remote lifestyle? A pack of dogs, who serve as both his cover and his friends that he cares tenderly for. It’s representative of the film’s rich, complex tapestry of cruelty, compassion, rights and wrongs that the man who kills others for money is also the one who seems to show the most kindness.
How exactly these lives literally collide would be spoiling the fun, but the fact that the film opens with the incident gives this web of strangers an ominous feeling of unavoidable fate – this is world of moral consequences that hits hard without pulling punches. DoP Rodrigo Prieto bathes the whole thing in a sun-bleached atmosphere, steeping the story in bleak, gritty and grimy realism. The script, by Guillermo Arriaga, recalls the interlocking structure of Pulp Fiction, but shuns Tarantino’s playful tone and, despite its vibrant colours is far from cartoonish in its intents.
The result is a weaving, winding meditation on fate that would go on to be echoed in his 2003 follow-up 21 Grams, 2006’s Babel and 2008’s The Burning Plain, but Amores Perros carries an urgency that stands out from the pack – an urgency that helped to put New Mexican Cinema on the map, alongside contemporaries Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro (Prieto, too, stands alongside fellow Mexican DoPs Guillermo Navarro and Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki as major creative forces in Hollywood today). Clocking in at 154 minutes, the result should be heavy-going, but the thrilling triptych is as breathtaking as it is brutal, even 20 years on.
Amores Perros is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.