stars out of 5
Astonishingly powerful debut film from director Inarritu – brilliantly shot, superbly acted and deeply heartfelt, this is one of the best films of the year.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Amores Perros finally opens here, after having been literally showered in awards over the past year. Indeed, if there were any justice, Crouching Tiger would have shared this year’s Best Picture Oscar with Traffic, and Amores Perros would have won Best Foreign Film, because, make no mistake about it, this is one of the best films you’ll see all year (providing you can get through the dog-fighting scenes).
The film opens with a hectic car chase through the streets of Mexico City.
Two young men are driving the car, trying to escape some people who are shooting at them, while a large dog lies bleeding profusely on the back seat.
We barely have time to register who these people are before there’s a sudden, horrific car crash, followed by some chaotic imagery in which we can just make out yet another dog and a young woman.
Then the narrative jumps backwards to tell the first of three inter-weaving stories…
The first story centres on the driver of the car, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) – a young man who has been secretly entering his Rottweiler ‘Cofi’ in brutal dog-fights, in order to win money so that he can run away with Susana (Vanessa Bauche), his hateful brother’s wife.
The second story focuses on Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), a middle-class married man who leaves his wife and family in order to shack up with his mistress Valeria (Goya Toledo), a beautiful model, in a luxury apartment.
However, when Valeria is confined to a wheelchair after the car crash, the two of them start to get more and more frustrated, a situation that is made worse when her beloved pet dog ‘Richie’ disappears down a hole in the floorboards and doesn’t come
back (though they can hear him scrabbling around at night).
Finally, the third story tells of El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria), a mysterious tramp who roams the streets with his stray dogs, while apparently working as a hitman…
With an inter-locking three-story structure such as this, and with such visceral scenes of violence (a disclaimer insists no animals were harmed, but you’ll struggle to believe it), it’s inevitable that comparisons will be made to Pulp Fiction and other films by Quentin Tarantino (indeed, the opening scene would seem to be an explicit reference to the opening of Reservoir Dogs).
There are other references, too – the ending of the second story is reminiscent of Coppola’s The Conversation, and there are nods
towards the work of Kieslowski (there’s a heavy emphasis on coincidence), Almodovar, Bunuel and even Oscar Wilde (the giant poster image of Valeria outside her apartment is like the portrait of Dorian Grey in reverse).
However, this isn’t to say that the film is in any way derivative – the film may reference other films, but Inarritu has a distinctive style all his own, coupled with a sense of human emotion that is missing from Tarantino’s films – indeed, in tone, the film is closer to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Pieto and Guillermo Arriaga’s script is both powerful and deeply affecting – this is story-telling of the first order, with terrific, naturalistic dialogue to boot.
The performances are excellent, with Bernal perhaps the stand-out – here’s hoping he doesn’t get swallowed up by Hollywood.
In addition to being packed full of great scenes, the film also has a fabulous soundtrack, which it uses brilliantly, particularly during two impressive montage sequences.
In short, then, this demands to be seen and is one of the best films of the year. It’s rare that you leave the cinema exhilarated from having seen something life-affirming, but this is certainly the case here – this is a film to be savoured and Inarritu is most definitely a talent to watch.