“Amores Perros” is a three-vignette film that’s not so much concerned about creating a harmonic epiphany among its three plot lines, but rather it aims for compelling stories with a brutally honest portrayal of life, love, sin and redemption. Getting a unified message out of the film is about as difficult as translating its title.
Literally translated the title doesn’t make much sense, but “amores” translates to loved ones or while “perros” literally means dogs but is also an obvious pejorative for lowly people such as criminals. The title can also be broken into “Amor es Perros” which means “Love’s a Bitch.” All of these are fitting for the film and their multitude is appropriate considering the open- ended nature of the truths the film preaches.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga give us three stories from Mexico City that are biblical in nature, each named for the two focal characters of the given story. All the stories deal with violence in some way, crime, love and lastly, each has a vital connection to dogs. Each story is as complicated as human beings ought to be portrayed in film. The characters are people of great love and passion, but with great capacity for error and sin. The dogs in their lives serve as instigators of conflict, distractions, sources of comfort and more, taking the emotion of these difficult stories to the next level.
“Octavio y Susana” is about Susana, a young married woman with a baby who lives with her abusive criminal husband, Ramiro, and her brother-in-law Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who keeps asking her to run away with him. Octavio trains the family dog, Cofi, to fight and wins money that he uses to support her and convince her to leave Ramiro.
“Valeria y Daniel” is about a supermodel, Valeria, who is having an affair with Daniel, a businessman married with children. Daniel buys them an apartment announcing he’s leaving his wife when a horrible car accident caused by the characters of the first story puts Valeria in a wheelchair. Both the incident and the disappearance of their dog, Ritchie, under the floorboards of the apartment tears at their relationship.
“El Chivo y Maru” is given to us in bits and pieces throughout the first two but eventually gets its own focus at the end. El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) is the film’s most complicated character. Seen in the beginning as a homeless man with a half dozen dogs who also doubles as an assassin, we learn that he left his wife and daughter to be a guerrilla fighter and landed in prison for 20 years, at which point he wanted his daughter to believe he was dead. After he was let out, the man who captured him gave him a place to stay and employed him as an assassin. During the story he tries to carry out a job while gathering the courage to see his daughter again.
The summaries might be long, but grasping the compelling circumstances, complication and depth of each story is essential to understanding what “Amores Perros” is trying to do. The stories are meant to show us the many facets of life and human nature. The film is not trying to find that one common denominator, but the several. We’re supposed to experience internally somehow that connection that makes all of the film’s difficult stories clear, not be lectured on it by the filmmakers.
“Amores Perros” is not a film for people looking for cathartic satisfaction from movies. There is no moment of feeling “at one” with the film or that pleasant feeling when you feel all the loose ends are tied up. It’s also one that animal-lovers should be careful with. There’s a lot of suggested animal violence — dogs that appear to be bloody and or dying. It’s a tragic and beautiful (in the literary sense) comparison to the brutality of human nature in the film, but it’s not one that’s easy to handle.
Most people, however, will appreciate the great storytelling and intensely interesting characters and events in this 2.5-hour film.
“Amores Perros” (2000)
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria, Goya Toledo