In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.
Amores Perros 
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga
Starring: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo, Vanessa Bauche, Álvaro Guerrero
Running Time: 154 minutes
Reason for inclusion: This is the only film in the “trilogy of death” that I hadn’t seen, and the constant comparisons to Pulp Fiction had me intrigued.
Accolades: BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language, Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Prize of the Critic’s Week at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, included on Empire’s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time, ranked #182 on IMDB’s Top 250
This review discusses several plot points and may contain spoilers.
In English, Amores Perros translates to “Love’s a Bitch.” It’s a clever play on words for a film in which love and dogs play an important part in each of its three segments.
As the first entry in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s trilogy of death (later followed by 21 Grams and Babel), Amores Perros is similarly structured as an anthology film. Three completely different stories are intertwined due to a horrific car crash that happens in Mexico City.
The first segment is the hardest to watch, and it is the reason why a “no animals were harmed during the making of this film” warning appears beforehand. It involves dog fighting, and through the illusion of quick cuts, the fights come across as all too real. The viciousness of these moments are enough to make animal lovers squirm (and possibly shut off the film altogether), but numerous precautions were taken to make sure no animals were actually harmed. It’s very effective film-making from Iñárritu in his feature film debut.
The main character of this first segment, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), becomes involved in dog fighting by total chance. After his dog kills that of a local thug’s in an impromptu “non-sanctioned” fight, Octavio sees this as an opportunity to begin profiting from his pet. His ultimate goal is to make enough money to escape with his sister-in-law, Susana (Vanessa Bauche), who is stuck in an abusive relationship with his brother, Ramiro (Marco Pérez).
The beginning of the film indicates that things aren’t going to go as planned, as it shows Octavio and Jorge in a car chase, culminating with them smashing directly into another car.
The second segment follows the lives of Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero) and Valeria (Goya Toledo). Daniel has left his wife and two kids in order to live with Valeria, who is a Spanish supermodel. She is the one driving the other car that Octavio and Jorge crash directly into. As a result, she breaks her leg, and is unable to continue working as a model. On top of this, she also loses her dog, Richie, who has somehow managed to get himself stuck underneath the floorboards of her house. With so many things going wrong at once, the strength of the new relationship of Daniel and Valeria is already put to the test.
The third and final segment focuses on one person, a hitman (Emilio Echevarría) nicknamed “El Chivo” (aka “The Goat”). His connection to the crash is the loosest of the group, as he is getting ready to perform an assassination at the exact moment the accident happens. El Chivo’s story is the saddest of the group, as he is a homeless man who just wants to reconnect with his long-lost daughter. His loyal group of dogs seem to be the only thing holding him together.
Three segments. Three completely different stories. On their own, they likely wouldn’t be particularly enthralling, but the way they are interwoven together keeps the film fresh. Little hints and reminders are dropped here and there, showing that these characters are all related in more ways than originally meets the eye. As with 21 Grams and Babel, this is a film that would seemingly warrant multiple viewings to pick up on these clues.
Filmed on a modest budget of $2.4 million, Amores Perros has a very personal, authentic feel. The performances are raw and impressive, and the fact that much of the movie was filmed in the poorer areas of Mexico City adds even more to the grittiness. In a crazy bit of trivia, Iñárritu and some of his crew were actually robbed by street gangs during filming.
It’s easy to see why Amores Perros is held in such high regard, and it is a thoroughly entertaining film overall. However, its 2 1/2 hour running time is a bit of a burden by the end, and some sections could have been easily reduced or cut entirely. The middle segment especially could use some trimming, as Valeria and her cries for Richie grew more and more ludicrous with every minute.
Regardless, this is still one hell of a filmmaking debut, and Iñárritu set the stage for a formula that he would go on to perfect with 21 Grams.