Amores Perros

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu

At last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, this fiercely moving film was billed as ‘the Mexican Pulp Fiction’. Incredibly, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s debut feature not only lived up to its advance hype, it confidently surpassed it. With its driving energy, skilfully integrated soundtrack and grainy images of life on Mexico City’s sometimes brutal, always teeming streets, it proved to be the find of the festival.
The Tarantino comparison s a useful starting point, not least because of the young director’s use of shifting time-frames, three overlapping stories and jagged visual and verbal rhythms. There’s even an explicit reference to Reservoir Dogs in the attention-grabbing opening scene, which replaces Tim Roth’s bleeding bank robber with a wounded Rottweiller dog. Also, like Pulp Fiction, the lives of the different characters are tangentially linked to those from other stories.
Accidentally drawn into the world of illegal dog-fighting, teenager Octavio dreams of using his champion dog Cofi’s winnings to run off with his violent, abusive brother’s young wife and baby. Later, fleeing from some rival fightñdog owners, Octavio and his friend are involved in a road accident. Meanwhile, middle aged Daniel leaves his wife and children for a beautiful model, Valeria; but their connubial bliss is cut short by this same car accident, which leaves her wheelchair-bound. Arriving on the scene, a homeless man, known only as El Chivo (The Goat), rescues the injured dog from the back of Octavio’s battered car, wheeling the wounded canine away on an old trolley.
At one point, because it features vicious-looking scenes of dog-fighting, the film became embroiled in a spurious, manufactured censorship controversy. In the event, the censors saw what was obvious to anyone who had seen the film: that the animal savagery is a testament to the director’s skill, not his cavalier disregard for animal welfare: ‘Nobody asked me if I really killed somebody in the car crash,’ explains Iñarritu. ‘I tell them, directors are big liars, we create illusions with images and sounds. I worked very hard to create an emotional stress in the audience, by showing the place where the fights take place, the crowd watching and shouting, and all the blood being swept away. I wanted them to smell the atmosphere. The actual dog-fighting scenes last for 21 seconds, but the animal handlers had taped the dogs’ mouths together and it is the camerawork and the sound design that creates the impression of a brutal fight.’
Where the Pulp Fiction comparison falls short is that it does not do justice to the fierce humanity that underpins Iñarritu’s beautiful, grainy visuals and Guillermo Arriaga Jordan’s multi-layered script. Compared to Tarantino’s cartoon version of criminal life, the Mexican actors create a world of everyday flesh-and-blood reality, drawing us into the emotional world of the all too human characters. Amid the chaos and noise of a city where poverty, violence, corruption and shattered dreams are a way of life, they survive with their lives, love and loyalty barely intact. Likewise, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s kinetic, often hand-held images put us right inside the action, his camera observing the characters with an unflinching but always sympathetic eye.
Mexico, 2000.
English subtitles.
Dolby digital stereo.
153 mins.

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