Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Amores Perros - Interwoven tales of loss

'Amores Perros' loosely translated into English as 'Love's a bitch' heralded the glorious debut of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who has since gone on to make path breaking cinema such as '21 Grams', the hugely popular 'Babel' and one of my personal favorites this year, the brilliant 'Biutiful' whose review you can find in one of my earlier posts. Ambitiously scripted by novelist Guillermo Arrianga, the movie tells us three separate tales of people belonging to different socioeconomic strata in Mexico city, their lives connected by one accident, loss and the relationship they share with their dogs.
First is the story of 'Octavio and Susana'. Played by the ever talented Gael Garcia Bernal, Octavio is in love with his brutish brother's young wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche). Belonging below the poverty line, theirs' is a world where meagre income is supplemented by performing hold ups at convenience stores or fighting dogs. Octavio needs money to run away with Susana, who succumbs to his ardor in the face of a violent husband. Money comes unexpectedly and how from his dog Cofi, who accidentally proves himself to be a dog killing machine. Octavio invests this ability of Cofi's in the murky world of dog fights and all seems to be going great till one day a rival dog owner turns his gun on Cofi.

The second tale is that of 'Daniel and Valeria'. Valeria (Goya Toledo) is a supermodel whose face is plastered on the billboards all over the city. She is in a relationship with Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) who has left his wife and children to be with her. Together with her dog Richie, they are starting out in a luxury apartment when the hand of fate strikes a cruel blow. An accident leaves Valeria in a wheelchair sitting at home all day looking at her own billboard outside the window. To further this blow, her dog while fetching a ball disappears in some open space under the floorboards. There are rats living down there and Valeria is scared for him, imploring and then fighting with Daniel to get him back. It is almost as if by rescuing him, she can somehow undo her own tragedy. But fate is not quite finished with her.

The last tale is that of Chivo, played by Emilio Echevarria, an aging vagabond pushing a cart and living out of trash cans. Accompanying him is a motley of stray dogs he cares for. A former professor who had given up his job and home with wife and baby for his guerilla cause and then spent decades in prison, he now performs the odd hit job. He also pines for his daughter who has grown up thinking her father is dead.

The three tales, on their own, would make for wonderful introspective cinema. Here these rich tales are entwined by an accident at the very beginning of the movie which hurtles us into a non linear time play. One tale sets off a chain of events that leads to another tale and the third, lurking in the shadows of the first two stories, comes to life towards the end. I have seen most of Inarritu's works to be aware that it is a technique that he has used with much success over time. This trick of time play and interconnected stories, now known as hyperlink cinema, is never as daring as in '21 Grams', a tour de force he followed on the heels of 'Amores Perros'.
Inarritu's characters are strong manifestations of the tragedy of the human heart. No matter the  socioeconomic level, there is pain in every tale. A boy who loves and loses everything, a woman who had the world at her feet only to literally lose it all. An old man who has lost everything and is now trying to find redemption. Running common is their immense bond with dogs. Chivo has lost human contact and forms a bond with stray dogs, also whom the world has forgotten. For Valeria, the only faithful companion of a lonely woman tied to her wheelchair, is the lil pooch always ready to provide the  time and attention she craves. For Octavio, his dog becomes his passport to a better life, a fresh start. A word of warning to the viewers, especially dog lovers like myself, the scenes of violence towards dogs can be quite stomach churning. It is a good thing they put a disclaimer at the onset that no dogs were hurt during filming. But the love between dog and his master is at the core of each tale. Where the human touch may fail, there are these ever faithful companions.

'Amores Perros' was the beginning of the wonderful cinematic path Inarritu has carved for himself in the last decade. He understands the pain in relations and in solitude as well as the human ability to live with that pain. The movie takes off to a gritty, thunderous start, reminding one of a Tarantino film, only to slow down and linger over its characters and their world, letting the viewers intimately into their longings and has their stories wash over us. This kind of quietly detailed observance of lives and emotions lead to great human drama. These are characters that continue to intrigue long after the end credits have rolled. A hallmark of remarkable moviemaking.

Available on DVD
Originally released in 2000
In Spanish with English subtitles
Oscar Nominated in 2001 for Best Foreign Language Film

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