Saturday, April 23, 2005

 

Film Review: 'Amores Perros'

'Amores Perros' is, to all intents and purposes, the debut feature of Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It has been, since its release, frequently hailed as a seminal film in Hispanic cinema. For example, here's Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle:

"For those willing to submit to its terrible charms, it may be the single most important debut to come out of the Americas in years."

or Rene Rodriguez in the Miami Herald (no link available):

"Has the feel of an instant classic, a melodrama with an exacting precision and a visceral, propulsive energy."

(Both reviews via Rotten Tomatoes.)

The film shows a trimuvirate of stories centred around a single, extremely well shot car crash. Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a young man desperate for cash who enters his dog Cofi into illegal dog-fights on the backstreets of Mexico City. With the money, he aims to rescue his brothers wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche) from her degrading marriage. The second segment concerns a succesful model, Valeria (Goya Toledo), who loses her dog at the same time she loses her mobility, and consequently her living. The third and final segment concerns 'El Chivo' (literally, The Goat, played excellently by Emilio Echevarría), who is attempting to return to his family after a long period of incarceration, and is paid to bump off a cheating brother by a corrupt policeman.

The film very much has the look and feel of a Hispanic 'Pulp Fiction,' meaning that the few reservations I shared about Tarantion's work apply here too. Namely, that is that there is always an emphasis of style over substance. Still, the story is very gripping. Or, to be more accurate, the first and third stories are gripping. The life of Octavio is cinematically fascinating. His relationships with his family and friends show, in the first segment, more than enough potential to fill a feature film of their own. Using the dogfighting as a metaphor for the harsh realities of life in Mexico City's slums is particularly clever, and for all the criticisms of the violence of the dogfighting scenes (in Britain, the RSPCA filed an official complaint with the BBFC), they really aren't that difficult to watch, or not for me anyway. I don't know whether I'm just too used to on-screen bloodletting, but they seemed to always stay on the line between tasteful and realistic. The real star of the segment, however, is the wonderful banter that the charceters get going. There's not a single line of dialogue that feels unnecessary, or that jars with the viewer. It really is extremely well written.

The third story, too, is well written and intelligent. It lacks the snappy dialogue of the first segment, but makes up for it by packing even more of an emotional impact. The sight of El Chivo leaving a message on his daughter's answerphone, while sitting on her bed, should melt even the hardest of hearts. Again, you get the feeling that there is easily enough dramatic potential in this story for a longer treatment than it gets.

All of which serves to make the second segment so frustrating. However much I wanted to, and believe me I did, I just couldn't sum up any concern at all for the narcissistic model and her equally self-centred boyfriend. The dramatic device of her dog getting stuck down a hole in the floor of their condo was pretty unbelievable, and her reaction to it made me loathe her still more. Ignoring the fact that her boyfriend had been instrumental in nursing her back to health, she proceeds to go spare when he refuses to take up the entire floor of the condo to get the dog out, breezing past his asssertions that he doesn't have the money to put it back together afterwards. She gives off an air of total arrogance, and seems impossible to live with, while he seems like a total doormat, whose only recourse under pressure is to threaten violence you know he'll never visit upon her. As a result, the whole segment feels badly underwritten. This can't be the case, because 36 drafts of the film were made before filming started, so I'm forced to the conclusion that Inárritu simply found the concept much more interesting than I did. This seems so silly, particularly when we consider that the film is actually a little too long.

If you can stomach seeing a little fake blood, however, 'Amores Perros' remains a very worthwhile project. It's good to get a look at the seedier side of life in a large Latin American city, and the acting performanes and direction definitely deserve investigation, as does the rather funky soundtrack. While it's more hit-and-miss than 'Pulp Fiction,' the greater humanity of many of the characters will make this, for some, a more rewarding experience.

Comments:
Liked 21 Grams more - went one step beyond Pulp Fiction in terms of screwing up chronology in favour of letting the story developed... First time you watch it, it forces you to keep watching it.

And Naomi Watts is fit.
 
I finally get to watch 21 Grams very soon. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll probably post a review here. Meanwhile, for anyone who likes Naomi Watts, there's a fascinating interview with her here:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,1141715,00.html
 
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