With the MTV influence rising in the American film industry, many of
the new film directors are segueing to the big screen with little more than
a handful of videos or commercials on their resumes. This isn't exactly a new
phenomenon, but the results have sometimes yielded less than stellar
results. In the case of disc jockey turned commercials and video helmer
Alejandro González Iñárritu, it led to an Academy Award nominee for
Best Foreign Language Film and one of the most haunting motion pictures
in recent memory. AMORES PERROS is an intricately plotted triptych that
uses a car crash as the central unifying element. Each of the three tales
is purportedly based on fact, and the director reportedly spent three years
working on the script with novelist Guillermo Arriaga, honing the piece until
it was as close to perfect as possible.
Beginning with a whiz bang car chase that leads to the tragic crash,
the film is divided into three distinct segments, each with its own subtitle.
The first, and arguably, the best is "Octavio and Susana," which details
the relationship between a young man and his older brother's teenage
bride. Although already a mother and pregnant with her second child,
Susana (Vanessa Bauche) encourages the attentions of her
brother-in-law Octavio (the extraordinary Gael García Bernal). The pair
make plans to run away as soon as they can save enough money, and
to speed the process Octavio begins to enter the family dog in a series
of fights in which he surprisingly emerges as the winner. The dogfight
sequences have proven controversial and difficult for some people to sit
through, despite the disclaimer that opens the film. The realism, achieved
via technology - editing and sound - disturbs some audience members,
yet subsequent sequences in which human beings are maimed and/or
killed barely cause them to bat an eye. Octavio runs afoul of some local
gangsters who had dominated the dogfights and when they exact revenge,
he does as well, which leads to the car chase and accident.
The second story, "Daniel and Valeria" focuses on a successful
model (Goya Toldeo) and her relationship with a married man (Álvaro
Guerrero) who sacrifices everything - including his children to be with her.
When she innocently goes out for some wine, she is involved in a car crash.
Nearly killed, she is left with a broken leg that leads to the cancellation of
her modeling contract. But the most upsetting thing for her is when her
small dog disappears in a hole in the floor. Hearing the whimpers of the
animal, she is tortured by her inability to rescue the pet. The resulting
tension creates a rift in her relationship which González Iñárritu depicts
which skirts but does not succumb to the level of soap opera, making it
the weakest of the tripartite film.
Rounding out the film is "El Chivo and Maru," featuring a seemingly
homeless man (the superb Emilio Echevarría) who travels with a pack of
dogs but who is actually a former guerrilla and part-time hit man. As a
witness to the accident, he rushes to rob Octavio and rescue a dog
(the champion fighter whom he nurses back to health only to be repaid
in a horrible way, proving the adage that no good deed goes unpunished).
Recruited to kill a businessman, El Chivo ("The Goat") finds himself
yearning to connect with the daughter he abandoned long ago.
AMORES PERROS, which translates in the vernacular to "love's
a bitch", is not an easy film to watch. González Iñárritu does not shy
away from the reality of violence or pain, but on reflection, the film
haunts. For a first-time feature director, he shows a marked command of
the many styles he employs and his prodigious gifts as a storyteller are
quite obvious. His capabilities with actors shines through even the
rougher patches (notably the "Daniel and Valeria" section). It may not
have won the Oscar, but this is one case where the Academy was on the
right track in recognizing an ambitious and thrilling work with a deserved
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexual content
Running time: 153 mins.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.