A dog is a man's best friend. They fetch our slippers, come when called, obey our commands and sometimes, it seems, read our moods from our scent and slouch. And we pay dogs back for it--with trips to the woods for hunting and trips to the groomer for a pedicure. Dogs and man have become close. So close, in fact, that in the sublime Amores Perros the tragic, lovesick characters begin meet their canine equivalents.
With loose grammatical guidelines, the English-subtitled film's title translates to "Love's a bitch"--An exceptionally apt title for a film that intricately weaves three plot lines, a la Pulp Fiction, into a larger tale of love, loss and betrayal. Unlike other Pulp Fiction clones, Amores Perros leaves out the rapid-fire, wholly unbelievable Tarantino-style talk. It's a relief; and it's shockingly real.
Opening with a daredevil car chase through the streets of Mexico City, we meet Octavio. His dog, Cofi, is lying on the back seat of his car, bleeding from a wound. Running from gun-toting lowlifes, Octavio ponders to a companion how he got in this mess. In his attempt to outmaneuver his pursuers, Octavio runs a red light, totaling his auto and the car of Valeria, who was out for a drive with her own dog. Witnessing the accident is El Chivo (The Goat), a mysterious homeless man who pushes a cart through the town, followed by a large pack of his own stray dogs.
From that point the story moves forward and backward in time, cruising through the lives of the three central characters.
In the first subplot, we learn that Octavio is in love with Susana, the wife of his thieving, philandering brother. To win her love, Octavio tries to earn money for her-by entering Cofi into bloodthirsty dogfights.
As he slowly buys her affection, and as Cofi becomes more vicious in the ring, Octavio grows ruthless--he orders his brother to be beaten to a bloody mess and he sexually assaults Susana. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga are not saying that people influence their dogs, but that our dogs eventually seem to influence us. For Octavio, love of Susana changes from juvenile infatuation to animal-like lust. This leads him to kill a man and take part in the car chase.
Valeria, a gorgeous perfume model, suffers massive leg injuries from the car accident, but the wounds are not what cripple her. Her dog, Richie, falls into a hole in the floor of her apartment and becomes trapped between the floorboards, along with a few thousand rats.
She spends all her time waiting for her dog to crawl out of the floor, exhibiting the ensnared feeling. Her older boyfriend, Daniel, can only watch. Even after Richie is rescued, Valeria will not be the same.
I will not reveal much about the story of El Chivo. His comes last in the film and inevitably ties up all the loose ends. Let me just say that the actor playing El Chivo, Emilio Echevarria, pulls off a tremendous performance. We slowly learn that his character is by far the most troubled of the three, and it only gets worse when he rescues Cofi from the scene of the accident.
In the end, the film is not about the people-as-dogs metaphor as much as it is about how people, like dogs, can express the emotion of love so wrongfully that it can cause great pain and lead us to doing horrific things. The theme is not new, but there is something so real in Amores Perros' telling of this story that haunts the viewer long after the credits roll.
Lastly, this film is rated R for a reason. The dogfighting scenes are very graphic, and while the Humane Society's stamp of approval shows up in the end titles, the blood and the reality of this movie are not for the mildly squeamish.
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