Amores perros could be a public service announcement about canine cruelty in Mexico City. Mexico City has a population of around nine million and takes up about six hundred square miles. For such a big city, it’s kind of odd the cast keeps running into each other, since their only connection is being the subject of this film (destitute assassin and dog lover Emilio Echevarría, who walks everywhere, must secretly be The Flash if he’s going to cover so much ground). I’d barely heard of the film, so I was a little surprised when I found it had such a critical and popular following.
Considering how hard it was to get through the first third–the film’s separated into three parts, rather haphazardly since most of the action in the second part is Echevarría’s and the first part is resolved in the third–I figure I’m alone. The first part is an entirely predictable brother loves brother’s wife story, somewhat accessorized (with the dog fighting). Even when it seems like it’s going to be unpredictable, it really turns out it is, no surprise, utterly traditional. The acting’s a little weak–Gael García Bernal and Vanessa Bauche are about as charisma-free as forbidden lovers can get. Cuckolded brother Marco Pérez, who has almost nothing to do, is a lot better. Bernal’s given the film’s biggest movie star role (except Echevarría, but his role turns out rather well) and he doesn’t do much with it. He’s a passive actor who mugs for the camera a lot–he kind of reminds of George Clooney on “E.R.” when he’d do the thing with looking up with his head down. Except Clooney had better writing.
The second story, which is hinted at during the first, turns out to be excellent and is a complete surprise. It’s a joy no less. Married publishing guy Álvaro Guerrero runs off with his mistress, a supermodel (how they met isn’t really explained and it’s a problem at first, since Guerrero’s character is a tad shallow). There’s a dog trapped in the floor, there’s the supermodel recovering from a car accident, there’s Guerrero’s wife ready to take him back. It’s the film’s most singular story–it reminds of a deceptively good short story, one the reader might dismiss while going through only to have a realization about on the last line. Even when it seems like it’s going to be cheap, it pulls through. Goya Toledo is good as the supermodel, probably giving the film’s second-best performance.
The best performance is easily Echevarría, who gets the goofy nomination friendly role here (Mexico has an Academy Award equivalent, right?). It’s almost absurd all the work he gets to do, but he does it all well. The film runs two and a half endless hours and the third story takes an hour. Subtracting the resolution to the first story (Guerrero and Toledo are noticeably absent from the third story, but given how well their’s went… maybe it’s for the best), it still probably runs fifty minutes. It’s frequently surprising and Echevarría makes the melodrama work. He’s got a couple big actor monologues and then gets to walk off into a Herzog shot.
The script uses some really cheap devices to bring its cast together and the narrative’s fractured, future here, past there, which is sometimes distracting and never really any good. Iñárritu’s direction is fine, does a decent film as video verité (I think it’s film anyway). It’s kind of a small movie pretending to be big, where the three stories either don’t deserve a feature or desperately do. Taking the Nashville approach seems to be something of a recurring cinematic fad… except some films tell stories requiring and some do not. Amores perros does not.
Produced and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; written by Guillermo Arriaga; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by González Iñárritu, Luis Carballar and Fernando Pérez Unda; music by Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Brigitte Broch; released by Nu Vision.
Starring Emilio Echevarría (El Chivo), Gael García Bernal (Octavio), Goya Toledo (Valeria), Álvaro Guerrero (Daniel), Vanessa Bauche (Susana), Jorge Salinas (Luis), Marco Pérez (Ramiro), Rodrigo Murray (Gustavo), Humberto Busto (Jorge), Gerardo Campbell (Mauricio), Rosa María Bianchi (Aunt Luisa), Dunia Saldívar (Susana’s Mother), Adriana Barraza (Octavio’s Mother), José Sefami (Leonardo), Lourdes Echevarría (Maru), Laura Almela (Julieta), Ricardo Dalmacci (Andrés Salgado) and Gustavo Sánchez Parra (Jarocho).