Best for Film’s Favourite Flicks #13 – Amores Perros

There’s essentially one thing Amores Perros is about, and it’s more than just love, death, greed, loyalty and pain (gosh, haven’t I made it sound appealing?). Amores Perros is about dogs. Good dogs, naughty dogs, hobo dogs, fighting dogs, handbag dogs – they’re all there. Guillermo Arriaga, Amores Perros‘ masterful screenplay writer, uses the ordinary to squeeze out the extraordinary; dogs symbolise the characters’ loyalty and disloyalty, acting as an allegory for the sinking depths of human violence or broken human relationships. The term “a man’s best friend” has never before felt equally relevant or dubious.

Okay, let’s dial down the intensity – Amores Perros has a lot more going for it than woefully bitter realities. Beneath a hard exterior of Mexican street gang wars, dog-fighting and a random homeless man, is the powerful story of three characters and what happens when their lives are unexpectedly interwoven in a tragic car accident. In three very distinct stories, Amores Perros explores the disloyalty between brothers, between a man, his wife and his subsequent mistress when she loses her beauty, and the redeeming loyalty from a retired hitman as he tries to repair lost connections with his daughter. Then there’s the dogs. They also come into it.

Attempting to go into any detail on the plot would be an utter shame, as Amores Perros works on the randomness of life. Divulging too much would take away the film’s essence; never knowing what to expect from life (or love) next. But Iñárritu gives us three stories to cry, laugh and gasp at. And I mean gasp in a deep, OH-MY-GOD-DID-THAT-JUST-HAPPEN way. We begin with ‘Octavio y Susana‘. Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is inadvertently propelled into a sinister, underground world of dog-fighting and (discovering that his dog is a ruthless killing machine when it comes down to it) begins seducing his brother’s girlfriend (Vanessa Bauche) with a wad of cash he earns from Fight Club for dogs. She doesn’t complain. But there are ulterior motives and deeper character intentions that means that nothing is what it seems. Amores Perros thrives on raw, carnal, bleak human emotion. Amazing. Do yourself a favour: watch the trailer:

Lost for breath? Good. In his first feature film, Gael García Bernal gives a career-defining wonder of a performance. Caught in a love triangle that is entirely his own fault, Bernal oozes just the right amount of naivety and youthful arrogance. There are no weak performances from any of the cast, to be honest, but Bernal stands out as a particular diamond because he’s got it all. The talent, the looks, the wolfish eyes that can turn child-like in an instant – all brilliant. But the truly first-class performance comes from Emilio Echevarría; the homeless hitman. His story is the one you want to see the most, the most enigmatic of all stories that seems to have no relevance whatsoever when really, it is the most heart-rendering of all. But more of that later.

In the second story, we’re introduced to ‘Daniel y Valeria‘. Here’s story-telling at its absolute best. Frankly, it comes down the simplest of rules: give characters something to want. And that want can be as simple as a glass of water, or in Valeria’s (Goya Toledo) case, freeing her dog from underneath the floorboards. But obviously, there’s so much more to it than that. In a freak accident that leaves Valeria severely injured, she must also contend with a new relationship that didn’t exactly spring from an entirely moral beginning, as well as the whining noises of her beloved dog trapped under their apartment. Here, the dog is a haunting presence that – mixed with the apartment’s decaying floorboards – essentially sends the couple mad. No need for high-octane action, melodramatic love stories or guns – here’s a story so quietly powerful it’ll have you going mad as well.

And finally, we have ‘El Chivo y Maru‘. Played masterfully by Echevarría, this is a story that’ll pull out your guts in raw, bleeding, uncompromising poignancy. El Chivo, once involved in guerilla movements that landed him in prison for years, lives in an abandoned warehouse with half a dozen stray dogs – and the rest is history. Here’s where we realise the dogs are the victims; humans are just as savage and animalistic. Perhaps, terrifyingly, even more so. What I love about Amores Perros is the thrilling realism of the stories. They may be set in Mexico – a country which can sometimes seem wholly filmic anyway because of its heavy street violence – but they’re plausible and deal with real human emotions. None of this overly-fantasised, romantic nonsense. El Chivo is one of the best characters on screen, in any movie, ever. There is so much to his story that I’d rather let Amores Perros first-timers discover it for themselves. You can’t experience a film for the first time, for the first time again.

In my eyes, there is nothing wrong with Amores Perros. Every shot, every line, every pained expression and desperate action is simultaneously insightful, dense and moving. It’s the moment when everything ties up, when you realise just how much these characters’ lives are connected that’ll make you need a moment or two after the film finishes. It’s like waking up from an intense dream where you feel the need to dissect every clue or symbol, but find joy in simply having had such an impressive dream. That’s Amores Perros. It’ll also introduce you to a whole new world of Mexican rap music and, let’s face it, Spanish isn’t exactly a tortuous language to listen to for 2 and a half hours. (Look out for a particularly striking shot involving sizzling blood and a sushi grill. Prepare to die.) You want film-making at its very best? Amores Perros. Because love’s a bitch.

Five (THOUSAND) stars all round, please.

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