Before Alejandro González Iñárritu did Babel (2006) and 21 Grams, (2003) he showed us a style that has become a mainstay in the Best Picture category. Amores Perros came before Traffic, and four years later Crash took away the glory of his unique style. Translated, it means “Life’s a Bitch” in Spanish. It’s a clever double entendre, referencing the horrific events revolving around a car crash, and the dogs that permeate every scene.
Gael García Bernal stars as Octavio, one of three dramatic leads. Ambitious projects like this are the reason he is one of my favorite under appreciated actors. Octavio is broke, and caught up vying for the love of his brother’s wife. Iñárritu presents a complex situation, that begets only more complexity. It’s in this way that I believe he’s discovered a new look at tragedy. Before the ensemble drama (Traffic, Babel, Crash) became main stream, he created a web of fate I believe new to cinema. We take one event or theme, and apply it to many different characters sharing the same setting. Paul Haggis literally stole the car crash of Amores Perros and fittingly applied it to the isolation of Los Angeles. I can’t think of a movie before Amores Perros (2000) that accomplished this task. Please, feel free to correct me if you have an older example.
After the car crash, things slow down dramatically. Yes this movie is a real drama with real emotion. If you want the high paced action you saw in the first five minutes, you’ll just have to keep rewinding.
Though slow, there is something very thick in Iñárritu’s camera. He understands irony. He takes the beautiful and makes it ugly. Going so far as to make the wonderful happiness of life sad and disturbing. “Life’s A Bitch” ends up having multiple meanings when we consider the plight of Octavio’s dog.
For those dog lovers out there, prepare to see many dead ones. Dogfighting serves as a metaphor for our ill fated lives. Octavio’s romantic dreams are directly contrasted with the fighting his dog does to make them tangible. Money, the most evil thing in our universe, becomes his tempting muse.
One of the beautiful things I noticed about the film was the colors. The setting is Guadalajara, Mexico, a majestic yet crime ridden metropolis. Iñárritu has clearly read his Othello, because many of the scenes containing jealousy are twinged with green. Iago’s words started spurning their evil head in my mind and I realized the strangeness of the plot. Octavio doesn’t like his brother Ramiro, but loves his wife. Though we empathize with Octavio’s sensibilities and playfulness, he is a helping hand in adultery. This is precisely the type of complexity that allows Octavio’s character depth. He’s both good and bad at the same time. His name starting with an “O” is probably a complete coincidence, but his jealousy and the green film tint are certainly the work of a brilliant director.
My critique of this film is in the pacing. I love every character for their real portrayal, but became jaded by the expectation of sadness. Slow moving at times, Iñárritu wants us to feel solitude. A risky move considering I am part of 5 second attention span generation.
It’s hard to watch movies like this, and that’s why it’s so important. If we only watch the light hearted, happy ending blockbusters, we lose a part of cinema that questions the human condition.