April 13, 2001

Movie Review

"Amores Perros"

By Adrian Rudomin

When viewing Amores Perros, a film that narrates three heartbreaking love stories, cleverly interconnecting them with the life of dogs in Mexico City, I was left with the lingering question of how could such a bold and uncompromising film be financed in today's tight and conservative film market. How could a piece with almost no emphasis on stars and with such a style be green lit by a commercial Mexican distributor? Could it be that in the depressed Latin American film market it was the strength of the story the main motivator for the financing?



Actress Goya Toledo as Valeria.

This question became more poignant when interviewing two of the stars, the beautiful Spanish actress Goya Toledo and the boyish and charming Gael Garcia Bernal, both surprisingly down to earth and practically unknown in the international scene, who came with almost identical stories of how they got involved with this film. Gael relates that Alejandro Gonzalez, the film's director, had seen his work in a short film and simply sent him the screenplay asking him to consider the role. Goya relates that Alejandro had seen her face on a photograph and simply got in contact with her and sent her the screenplay. He did not need the approval of the distributor to make such bold moves.

So against all odds, from Mexico, a country with a crumbling film industry in which commercial film production is near its all time lows and in which the local market has been almost destroyed by the American blockbuster, comes a powerful and uncompromising film like "Amores Perros", in which the actors can be cast for their talent and not for their market value. And like a string of other surprising Mexican gems like "El Callejon de los Milagros, Cronos, Danzon, Santitos, Sexo Pudor y La-grimas, and others, "Amores Perros" has taken the Mexican market by storm, grossing surprisingly large sums for a Spanish speaking film, and even getting distribution in the United States.

The message perhaps is clear, in the rest of the world, where English speaking films have all but monopolized the taste of the viewers, there is an ever growing hunger for product in the language of the land, that reflects the manners of speaking (swearing!) and living of the young middle class. And since the producers in those countries would be insane to try to compete with the polished extravaganzas only Hollywood can produce, there's a growing and profitable niche that has emerged: quality, edgy, story and character driven films that appeal to individual markets yet reflect the universal questions of the choices and hardships of love and life.

Based on a book by Guiller-mo Arriaga, steadily directed by Alejandro Gonzalez, and amazingly photographed by one of Mexico's greatest young talents, Rodrigo Prieto, "Amores Perros" is as universal as it is local, for it narrates questions of love, life, fear, retribution with an unique raw beauty in a fashion that reflects the complex and baroque nature of the most populated city in the world, Mexico City, yet deals with questions and ironies that are valid anywhere. One of the most notable aspects of this film are scenes of brutal dogfights. Dogs are a very present aspect of life in most third world cities, and the relationship between people and their dogs is as poignant a symbol of the condition of human beings in large cities as anything else.

When confronted by some of the brutal scenes of dogfights in this film, many viewers will no doubt have a stronger reaction than when confronted by the tragedy afflicting the people. That in itself tells us a lot about all of us, where we care more about the fate of dogs than people. And that is one of the main links between the three main stories, the story of Octavio (played by very charming and poignant Gael Garcia), who takes his dog Cofi into the dogfight world to raise money to woo his brother's young and appealing wife.

The story of Daniel (played by Alvaro Guerrero), who leaves his wife and kids for the gorgeous model Valeria (played by the very convincing Goya Toledo), only to see it all end in an abrupt and surprising accident, and finally El Chivo (played by the highly respected Mexican actor Emilio Echevarria), a revolutionary turned hit man who after seeing the accident reaches a life altering epiphany which leads him to the rescue of our her dog Cofi.

A film in the best tradition of contemporary independent filmmaking, "Amores Perros," winner at the Cannes Film festival and a deluge of other major international film festivals.

It has been hailed by The New York Times as "The first classic of the new decade," which is a very compromising praise that puts this independently spirited film to a hard test of which it passes with flying colors.

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