DEAD DOGS DEFINE the brilliant, brutal heart of this knockout debut film intertwining three stories on the mean streets of Mexico City. As you'd expect from a teeming, polluted, lawless metropolis that contains extremes of wealth and poverty, Amores Perros isn't pretty. So, believe the opening admonition that no animals were harmed during its production. If you can't even stand the thought of imaginary violence against canines (or humans), rent Bambi instead, padron. For the nonsqueamish, for those who loved Pulp Fiction—putamadre!—Perros is one great flick. Nominated for a Y2K foreign-language Oscar alongside Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Taste of Others, here's one tough, terrific movie that makes no concessions to crossover politeness or morality. (No wonder it didn't win an award.)
directed by Alejandro Gonzᬥz I�itu with Gael Garc???Bernal, Vanessa Bauche, lvaro Geurrero, Goya Toledo, and Emilio Echevarr??? runs April 13-26 at Egyptian
A single, gut-wrenching car crash links Perros' three distinct chapters, while two disparate dogs connect its characters. Remember their names: Cofi is a huge Rottweiler who kills with a single bite in the dog-fighting ring; Richie is a pampered lapdog owned by a supermodel. Each pooch inspires and symbolizes love—tragic love, disastrous love, unrewarded and unrequited love. (The picture's title translates loosely as "Love's a Bitch," perfectly encapsulating its vivid yet jaundiced tone.)
Thus, in the first episode, soulful young Octavio (Gael Garc???Bernal) hopes to win the love of his sister-in-law Susana (Vanessa Bauche) and fund their escape with Cofi's winnings. In the second, publishing executive Daniel (lvaro Geurrero) endures yapping Richie as the price for keeping leggy model Valeria (Goya Toledo) in their love nest. In the third, a filthy homeless assassin known as El Chivo (Emilio Echevarr??? lovingly tends an entire pack of mangy mutts to succor himself for the daughter he abandoned. In all these stories, however, love bites back—and how.
IT'S THOSE TEETH that Perros sends snarling at you. Again and again, the sudden violence of passion surprises in all three panels of this intense, emotional triptych. El Chivo shoots a businessman through the plate-glass window of a restaurant, and blood boils on the grill. Octavio and Susana rut on the floor like animals next to her baby. Daniel and Valeria turn from lovey-dovey goo-goo talk to shrieking vituperation when Richie goes missing in their flat. Meanwhile, El Chivo prepares for his next hit, involving two equally unlikable half-brothers whose enmity parallels Octavio's family feud.
Beneath the black humor and saturated colors of Alejandro Gonzᬥz I�itu's remarkably assured first film, that unifying theme of fractured families gives Perros its substance. Totemic photos, snapshots, and family albums recur, hinting at ties broken and haltingly formed. As with people, so with the dogs: Tenderness is often requited with bloodshed, but that doesn't stop a heart from pining. "God can laugh, but I still have my plans," says a scarred, bruised, not-quite-beaten Octavio. Perros frequently makes you flinch and cringe, but it's the emotional violence that matters (not the comparatively brief glimpses of actual carnage). Yet somehow, like the dogs, people manage to recover from such injury.
Gonzᬥz I�itu comes from a background in radio, TV, and advertising, which helps explain his movie's breathless pace and sheer watchability. Unlike so many efforts from the MTV generation, Perros reminds us of the latent humanity concealed by gritty urban poverty or high-fashion beauty. In the former category, Octavio's idealism is touching despite his callousness. In the latter, Valeria initially seems a vapid figure of fantasy, yet Perros treats her as few flicks would dare—deepening her character without respecting her looks.
In a line that could be Perros' motto, a convenience store robber declares, "It's not safe around here!" But where is? Uncontrollable desire endangers everyone, every place. Unlike most movies, Perros calmly accepts that such ardor can bring disaster and death—but also redemption. In that spirit, it begins with a frenetic, bloody car chase and ends with a man slowly strolling across a blackened field, accompanied only by his faithful dog. It's a scene both despairing and hopeful, like the film itself. Like love itself.