Amores Perros

Amores Perros (18)

AT THE last count this remarkable slice of Mexican low-life drama had notched up no fewer than 19 separate awards at film festivals around the world, as well as an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film at the Oscars in March.

High praise indeed – and richly deserved, for this is a truly great film boasting fiery acting from a high-powered ensemble cast, a sensational script by Guillermo Arriaga and solid direction from Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Already compared in some quarters to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the film (retitled Love’s a Bitch in some English-speaking countries) resembles Tarantino’s epic only through its structure as a portmanteau picture, weaving three interlocking narratives together to form a complex yet coherent whole.

The stories all take place in Mexico City and culminate in a fatal road accident. In one, a teenager, Octavio, makes plans to run off with his older brother’s pretty young wife, Susana, and uses his ferocious dog in a series of bloody dogfights to raise the cash they need to elope.

In the second chapter, married Daniel dumps his wife and daughters for beautiful model Valeria, with whom he sets up home in a luxurious apartment. In the third segment, low-grade hitman El Chivo (the fabulous Emilio Echevarría) is returning to his hovel of a home when he encounters a car accident and recovers from the smashed vehicle a bloody dog which he takes home and heals.

In terms of characterisation, ferocious observation and sheer humanity, Amores Perros has not been matched by anything this reviewer has seen in the last five years.

Perfectly composed and crafted, it resembles a Ken Loach picture in the way it effortlessly draws the viewer into the trials and tribulations of the various characters – working class criminal, middle-class philanderer, hobo assassin – and how they cope with the various situations of which they are a part.

As his Anglicised title suggests, love is indeed a bitch, because there are no pat answers, no saccharine-sweet convenient tie-ups in Amores Perros. Instead there is recrimination, tragedy and death, with just the slightest hope of redemption as one character finds a way out of the labyrinth of pain which his life has become.

Perhaps the one significant element which, above all else, comes to the fore in Iñárritu’s gritty fable is the choice of Mexico City as the location for the three tales. Like Sam Peckinpah’s hard-edged thrillers of the 1970s, Mexico is revealed as having a nasty, dangerous, scabby underbelly where the rights and wrongs of society often come down to the flick of a switchblade or the barrel of a gun.

The whole filthy milieu is encapsulated in the character of El Chivo, a former freedom fighter turned killer, brilliantly portrayed by veteran Echevarría, an unfamiliar name and face in the West, but an actor surely destined for huge success on the back of Amores Perros.

Echevarría ably pulls together a ragged anti-hero of a man whose frustration, corruption but, most of all, rampant nihilism, is written across his weathered features like a map. He scythes through the picture like a grubby Angel of Death, pausing only to betray his innate humanity over a wounded dog and a young woman he watches, unobserved, from the street outside her home.

Iñárritu also gets the very best from his junior cast, not least young lovers Octavio and Susana (Gaël García Bernal and Vanessa Bauche), while Goya Toledo, as Valeria, and Álvaro Guerrero, descend into a peculiar brand of madness as the self-absorbed couple in a gilded cage.

Amores Perros is to receive a staggered release in the UK, but seek it out when it lands in a cinema near you. It is likely to be the rawest examination of human emotions you will experience this year.

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