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With: Vanessa Bauche, Goya Toledo, Jorge Salinas, Rodrigo Murray Prisant, Alvaro Guerrero, Emilio Echevarria, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza
Written by: Guillermo Arriaga Jordan
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
MPAA Rating: R for violence/gore, language and sexuality
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 154
Date: 14/05/2000

Amores Perros (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Puppy Love

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee Amores Perros embodies all the excitement we looked forward to after the dog days of Pulp Fiction (1994). Many of us fully expected a new renaissance in American filmmaking at the time. But instead came adeluge of half-baked imitators, and we were right back where we started.

The renaissance never happened in America, but it's been cooking down in Mexico for a while. 37 year-old director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu figured out how to use Pulp Fiction's energy and innovation but tie it into a story that seemed real and close to his own heart.

Like Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros tells "three stories about one story." The film opens like a sledgehammer left hook with Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) speeding down Mexican city streets, a bleeding dog in the back seat and an ominous looking truck hot on his tail. This section comes from somewhere in the middle of the story, and it's designed to throttle us instead of gently taking us by the hand.

Viewers should be forewarned: like Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros is unwaveringly violent, especially concerning animals. But whereas Pulp Fiction's violence was -- for the most part -- implied, the gore in Amores Perros is directly onscreen, from grisly dog fights to a murdered man bleeding all over a hot griddle in a restaurant.

Going back just a bit, Octavio is in love with his brother's wife and longs to run away with her. To raise money for this, he begins fighting his dog in illegal matches. In the meantime, we get glimpses of the second and third stories: a 42 year-old married businessman (Alvaro Guerrero) receives secret phone calls from some unknown party, and a homeless former revolutionary called Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) wanders the streets murdering men in suits and spying on a beautiful young woman.

When Octavio's story wraps up, we meet the maker of the mysterious phone calls, a beautiful blonde model named Valeria (Goya Toledo). The businessman, named Daniel, has just left his wife to move in with the model. Unfortunately, a serious car accident (also involving Octavio) leaves her leg smashed nearly beyond repair.

Following that same accident, Chivo rescues Octavio's dog from the wreckage and nurses it back to health, unaware that it has been a fighter. At the same time, a nervous entrepreneur hires Chivo to kill his cheating partner. Chivo takes the job, but uses the money to track down the girl he has been watching, his daughter.

The accident is the focal point of the movie. It's the event that links the destinies of these people. But if the accident is the skeleton of the film, dogs are its heart. Octavio's dog becomes the source of his world, as well as Chivo's, who also keeps several strays by his side at all times. Even Valeria has a foofy little dog who becomes trapped under the floorboards of her new apartment, causing Valeria more distress than she can possibly foresee.

These elements make Amores Perros more cohesive and more neatly packaged than Pulp Fiction. It's also more focused on everyday realism than Tarantino's film, a factor many critics consider superior. To me, a film can be ultra-realistic or ultra-expressionistic, and it doesn't matter as long as some kind of human truth comes through. I think both Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros succeed in this manner, but Pulp Fiction remains the greater film because it takes the road less traveled and less appreciated. Nevertheless, Amores Perros shines where so many other imitators over the years have failed.

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