Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Note: the following review originally contained "unacceptable words." It now contains unacceptable words with asterisks in the middle and in Spanish. If such words would offend you, now's the time to go somewhere else.
Amores Perros again proves that, while American cinema wallows in big bucks, big stars, big explosions and little ideas that appeal to 18 to 24 year olds, the art of great film making goes on elsewhere, this time in Mexico. So far, this is my favorite film of 2001.
The film presents three parallel love stories, all of which meet at a single point in space and time--a horrendous car crash at a Mexico City intersection--and then continue on their separate ways with their momentum intact but their original trajectories thrown off by the impact. In this film, dogs are the metaphor for love. The behavior of dogs is used to comment on the nature of love, and the fates of various dogs--expecially those involved in one of Mexico's many vicious spectator sports--are closely intertwined with the fates of their masters.
In the first, and most developed story, Octavio decides to raise money so he can run away with Susana, the wife of his abusive and increasingly criminal brother. His love is naive, tempestuous, greedy, and idealistic but immoral and impractical. By a chance encounter he discovers that the family mutt is a killer, and he starts to clean up by betting on shockingly violent dog fights, which in their naked instinctual aggression are much like his love, unattenuated by intellect. In a completely surprising sequence, his dog is seriously injured, and it's the headlong rush to save the dog that leads Octavio and his friend to the point of impact.
The second story is about an adulterous affair between a businessman and a beautiful model, and the third is about the reemerging love of a down and out, nearly crazy assassin for the family, particularly the daughter, he abandoned long ago to pursue dangerous political ambitions. Model and assassin also converge at the point of impact.
The strength of the film is in the subtlety and details of the story telling, especially the character development. We get to know the characters, their ambitions, limitations, expectations about love, capacity to love, and especially their ability to adapt to dramatically changed circumstances.
Most films are considered successful if the audience willingly follows the story from beginning to end, but this one does more. You leave the theater wondering what will happen to the people you met, and you also wonder what their lives would have been like if one car had reached the intersection a few seconds earlier or later. You get to see one film, and then fantasize two others. What could be better?
Amores Perros has been compared to Pulp Fiction, and there are several similarities: graphic and realistic depictions of street life and violence, multiple simultaneous story lines, and a car crash as a pivotal plot element. But that's where the similarity ends. Amores Perros is a serious film.
The cinematography is extraordinary: hand held, edgy and up close face to face with the characters as well as the blood soaked dogs. The scenes of Mexican working class life struck me as especially realistic. I've been in Mexican homes that looked exactly like Octavio's and Susana's, right down to the X-Men stickers on the walls.
Some Insights Into the Spanish
This film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Of course, this causes lots of problems for English-only audiences.
First, there's the problem with the title, translated Love's a Bit*ch. A literal translation would be "Wretched Loves" or "Awful Loves." The play on words in Spanish is that "perro" means both "dog" and "wretched" or "awful." Unfortunately, Love's a Bit*ch carries a much lighter, even humorous, connotation which is completely absent in the Spanish. In this film, Love is a Wretched-Dog.
Second, if you don't know much Spanish, particularly street Spanish, the coarseness and vulgarity of the dialog will go right by you, because the English translations soften the language considerably. But you can listen for a few things to at least get a feel for the raunchiness:
cabrón (kah-BRON) can be translated as "a*shole" or "bastard." "Cabra" means (female) goat, and it carries connotations of animal behavior and craziness which get picked up by cabrón. Don't say this to anyone unless you want to get hit or worse.
pinche (PEEN-chay) is a common negative intensive meaning "bloody" in the British sense or "lousy" in American vernacular, but it is probably better translated as "f*cking" as in "pinche cabrón."
pendejo (pen-DAY-ho) as an insulting adjective means "idiotic" or "cowardly" and as a noun, "fool," "idiot," or "coward." Derived from the verb "pender" ("to hang"), it's also a vulgar way to say "pubic hair," and is usually meant to carry that additional connotation.
Lots of phrases using the verb chingar (cheen-GAR), mean something along the lines of f*ck off.
On the other hand, actual sexual intercourse is referred to with the verb coger (co-HAIR).
Hope that helps a bit.
Note: This film contains graphic scenes of violence involving both humans and dogs. If you haven't the stomach, stay away.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age