Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's debut film Amores Perros (2000) immediately set Iñárritu on the map of international cinema upon its premiere at Cannes. Going on to be nominated for best international film at the Oscars, Amores Perros proved to be a film that captured a sample of life in Mexico that translated to viewers across the globe. Iñárritu would go on to make three more films, 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006) which both thematically followed in the footsteps of Amores Perros and concluded Iñárritu's "Death Trilogy", and in 2010 he released Biutiful which covered similar themes of death but lacked his traditional non-linear style.
Divided into three chapters, Amores Perros is a gripping non-linear drama that keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. Beginning with a horrific car crash in the streets of Mexico City, the first chapter reverses from that moment and shows the events leading up to the impact. Chapter one focuses on Octavio (Gael Garciá Bernal) and his growing intimate relationship with his brother's wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche). Octavio's brother abuses Susana often and doesn't care for their child which presses Octavio to enter his dog, Cofi, into the world of dog-fighting so that he can pay for he and Susana's escape to a distant land.
The second chapter follows Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) who is a successful magazine editor and the model he leaves his wife for, Valeria (Goya Toledo). This chapter primarily progresses from the car crash as it follows Valeria's recovery from the wreckage. Upon returning from the hospital, she begins to realize that her modeling career could come to an end because of her injuries. To top things off, Richie (her dog) is stuck in the floorboards of their home and won't come out. Tensions grow as Daniel begins to regret leaving his wife, and the sound of Richie whimpering underneath them only intensifies their situation.
The final chapter follows a former political criminal and current hitman known as El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría). Living life as a seemingly homeless man, this mid-fifties political fighter owns several dogs that follow him through the streets. While working on his latest "job", on the side he is trying to discover the whereabouts of the family he abandoned decades before.
Amores Perros is a brutal debut film that is executed with great control and a solid narrative that justly placed Iñárritu at the forefront of the Mexican film world. The title, Amores Perros, translates to the double entendre "Love's a Bitch" which accurately (and provocatively) covers both aspects of the film: the joy that dogs bring into people's lives and the painful side of love.
Shot in a hand-held format, Amores Perros not only feels real, but the action on the screen is intensified and the audience relation to the characters is amplified as the camera observes the character subtleties as if it were another person in the room.
In Gael Garciá Bernal's breakthrough role, it is clear why Amores Perros has made him one of the most internationally known Mexican actors of today. His character, Octavio, is the true soul of this film and his performance is a riveting Shakespearean arc that takes viewers to the most joyful of emotions to the lowest of lows as he risks losing his dog in the ring and fights for the affections of his brother's wife. Though his actions seem at times both wrong and immature, he seems justified with his slum-tainted child-like innocence.
Featuring a wonderful soundtrack by Iñárritu's regular composer Gustavo Santaolalla, the essence of living in Mexico is further conveyed, and a greater sense of humanity and fragility is channeled onto the screen with his contribution.
Though not as grand as his 2006 dramatic epic Babel, or as focused as his most recent film Biutiful, Amores Perros is a power house debut film that is both a unique character study and a portrait of the often extreme cause and effect life that we live in. Without Amores Perros, one of the greatest auteur filmmakers of our time would be absent from the world of film. Today, the absence of Alejandro González Iñárritu is almost unimaginable as his films both inspire and inform viewers of the human condition. Further, Iñárritu's films have established himself as a Mexican Ingmar Bergman as he penetrates the soul and reveals the mortality of all. Death may be an ever-present theme through Amores Perros (and a vast majority of his work), but it is just another aspect of life that he chooses to discuss. His discussion of death does not flaunt death or violence, but rather pushes audiences to realize the gift of life through the tragedy his characters experience.
My ranking: 5/5