I’ve had a mixed experience with Alejandro González Iñárritu films; I didn’t care much for Babel, loved Birdman, and thought that, stunning cinematography aside, The Revenant was overrated as hell. This gritty and raw-as-guts 2000 Mexican drama, Iñárritu‘s first feature film, landed in the “loved” basket, despite being a hard watch.
The movie starts in an explosive fashion with blurred and confused images, as a car chase in Mexico City ends in a horrific crash. This accident connects the three distinct stories of the film; another connective tissue is the presence of dogs in each story, where their roles are just as important as humans’. A disclaimer at the start reassures that no animals were hurt during the making of the movie, but even so, this is not a film for a tender-hearted dog lover who can’t bear to watch the man’s best friend harmed onscreen.
The first part, Octavio and Susana, is especially confronting, as it’s centred around dog fights and the camera never backs away from the brutality of this blood sport. The story follows Octavio, a young man from the poor part of the city, who’s in love with his brother’s wife and fantasises about running away with her. After his Rottweiler unexpectedly kills a champion dog belonging to a local thug, Octavio decides to enter the world of dog fighting… which doesn’t end well.
The next segment, Daniel and Valeria, moves things to a more upscale (and somewhat less gory) territory, following a young and successful model/actress whose leg gets severely injured in the car accident. Her lover, a television producer who’s left his family to be with Valeria, is endlessly supportive and things look like they might be on the mend, when Valeria’s fluffy dog chases a ball into a hole in the floorboards and refuses to come back. The fear and frustration over her dog on top of Valeria’s injury stretches the relationship to its limit; overall though this segment is not as relentlessly brutal as the first, and even has some inspired moments of dark comedy.
The third segment, El Chivo and Maru, follows a disheveled old vagrant lurking on the fringes of the previous two stories with his pack of dogs, who is revealed to be a former revolutionary and now a hitman for hire, with a grown-up daughter he hasn’t spoken to in years. Without spoiling anything, this is where the disparate storylines intersect the most, with some devastating results.
This is a big, intense, sprawling movie, heavy on story and full of strong and at times violent emotions. Rich or poor, the characters are all touched by suffering, and are never easy to pigeonhole. Even the most vulnerable and sympathetic ones aren’t saints, and the same person can be breathtakingly cruel in some moments and pitiable in others. There’s also a powerful sense of the director showing a place he knows well; after watching this movie it’s not a coincidence that the Mexican storyline in Babel was in my opinion the strongest one. Brilliantly written, directed and acted, Amores Perros is exhausting but rewarding.