Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Amores Perros (2001)

Things start with a bang in this movie: two young guys are driving their car down some urban street, talking about how the near dead dog on the back seat was shot and might not make it. Then there are more guys in a bright yellow truck chasing them gun in hand - why? We don't know. Instead of telling us, the car crashes into another and catches fire.

The opening credits roll, and then the first third of the movie fills in how we get to the car crash. Octavio (Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal) is living in cramped quarters with his brother Ramiro and sister-in-law, Susana. Ramiro is hyper and violent: he makes his living by working in a drug store and occasionally robbing it. Octavio is in love with Susana and finds that he can make a living by entering his dog, Cofi, into dog fights. With the money he is making, he wants Susana to run away with him. There are plenty of dog-fighting scenes which, despite being simulated, were pretty hard to take. About 15 fights into his career, Cofi is lined up against Jarocho's latest find for the biggest purse so far: rather than let the fight proceed, Cofi is shot, Jarocho is stabbed and thus we get the car-chase scene with which the movie opened.

The second segment is about the occupant of the other car, Valeria: she is a top fashion model who has seduced Daniel away from his wife. I think there is a point being made here about the randomness of fate: she is not insulated by her position in society. After the crash, of course, there is no modelling for her: most of the action is in her apartment, where the relationship between her and Daniel gets nmore and more tense. Given that he had left one woman to come to her, I was surprised he stuck it out so long when things got tough. There was also a dog in this scene: a stupid rich person's dog, the sort that gets carried around. He manages to fall through a hole in the floor and can't get out, can't even be located for days. Stupid. Sure, the dog is just as trapped as Valeria is, but I'm not convinced this added much.

The third segment is a bit more random: El Chivo ("the goat") is simply an onloooker, an apparently homeless man pushing a barrow of junk around. He picks Cofi up and takes him home to join his collection of stray dogs, where he nurses him back to health (with tragic results). It turns out that El Chivo has quite a back story - he had a nice middle class background but threw it all away to pursue his political beliefs, thinking he could make the world a better place. Instead, he was imprisoned for 20 odd years. His daughter thinks he is dead: El Chivo wants to pick up his relationship with her, but clearly doesn't know how. In the meantime, he is a contract killer, much richer than his appearance as a bum would suggest.

He provides a kind of moral centre to the movie: after he finally makes contact with his daughter, he is commissioned to kill one brother at the behest of the other. Instead, he kidnaps them both and makes them face up to each other: if one wants the other dead, he'll have to do it himself. References to Cain and Abel are made.

Finally, we are back to the other brothers: Octavio and Ramiro, who also takes a punt at the biggest job of his life, by robbing a bank. At least, he tries to. Octavio is still in love with Susana, still wants her to run away with him - the movie ends with the scene in the bus station where he finally finds out whether she will or not.

The title refers to love, and apparently means "life is a bitch" (my poor spanish wants to translate perros as danger, but that may well not be right.) Certainly, love is not easy in this movie: as brothers, we might expect some love between Octavio and Ramiro but instead, Ramiro threatens to kill his younger bro and rips him off. Ramiro's love is for his sister-in-law and it doesn't exactly go too well for him. Daniel's love for Valeria is stretched beyond breaking point by her insane demands and I have no clue as to whether she loved him. His wife clearly does and, again, it goes badly. El Chivo is the only one who really loves: he is clearly pining for his daughter but doesn't want to interfere (there is a cute pair of scenes involving her picture of him - he breaks in to provide an updated headshot for the photo, twice). Whether he actually ends up in a better place than, say, Octavio is less than clear.


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