Amores Perros (2000)

Amores Perros is among a group of films that desperately needs some kind of categorical name as a handful of “artistic” and “important” films keep adopting the same formula for dramatic impact. This formula requires a number of subplots that get equal time throughout the movie and center around a big event that brings these totally strangers together into one life defining moment.

The idea is to show how everyone is connected, how seemingly unrelated people can have deep impacts on each other’s lives without even knowing anything about the other person. While an interesting sentiment, the problem is that the big event is usually so preposterous and far-fetched that the sentimentality trumps good storytelling, as is certainly the case with the car crash in the middle of the film that alters three separate lives forever.

Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is caught up in the dog fighting world, trying to raise enough money to escape with his sister-in-law. Meanwhile, Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) and celebrity Valeria (Goya Toledo) are having a secret love affair that takes a turn for the worse after the two settle down in a new apartment. Finally, El Chivo (Emiio Echevarria) wanders the streets, old, homeless and still haunted by the ghosts of his past.

The problem is that only one of these stories is actually any good. Octavio’s tale provides far more interesting and engaging because there are more complicated, complex and convoluted elements at work in the story. This makes the characters involved more intricate as they must deal with difficult situations in interesting ways. It also proves the darkest and hardest story to watch as there’s a visceral weight to a lot of the violence and darker character moments.

The other two stories are a bit too straightforward and simple. The story of two lovers doesn’t have enough twists and turns to sustain its length as it quickly keeps regurgitating the same conflicting issue over and over again. Likewise, El Chivo’s story, while a bit more involving, becomes repetitive and never earns the ending, as astounding as it may be. The evolution of the character isn’t developed well enough for the change to be warrented.

Another core problem with the film, which could be due to poor translation, is that the dialogue isn’t well crafted. Granted, these aren’t necessarily the most intelligent and eloquent people, but the words sound so bland, so cliché, lines heard before, and sentiments expressed in a straightforward and dull manner. Once again, this could simply be a translation error or a poor set of subtitles for the DVD release.

This is a shame, because the film is at its best when it expresses itself through the images. The montages in this film are fantastic, condensing key passages of time into wordless narratives. The film could use more of these montages as the stories are too bloated and long and the montage distills the conveyance of information to a minimum. Likewise, the best moment of the film simply presents itself wordlessly, the situation and association carrying the emotional heft of the film.

When compared to films similar to this, Amores Perros is not impressive. Magnolia does a much finer job at crafting a series of inter-related stories that are consistently engaging and compelling. And even though Crash isn’t as good, the film finds a much better way to have the characters intersect into each other’s lives and affect one another. Amores Perros has its merits, but when it comes to the big picture, the film fails to come together.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing