Let us welcome Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñárritu to the first rank of film directors, and with his very first feature to boot. This brilliant, wickedly kinetic vision of life at three levels in Mexico City is the new decade's answer to the startling genius of "Pulp Fiction;" but Gonzàlez Iñárritu, by adding a novelistic richness and tragic underpinning to his film's texture -- qualities the Tarantino film avoided - has given it an anchor in reality. You might say it has the kinetic power of "Traffic" with a Tarantino distancing. Surely among the boldest films in years, "Amores Perros" shows a security of control over content and technique that is rare in films by even the most experienced directors.
Roughly translated as 'Life's a Bitch,' the film wastes no time sweeping us up into its stories; there are three of them, all linked by an auto accident. And by dogs, which play important roles and give additional meaning to the title. Dogs are very important in "Amores Perros." The film has barely opened when we follow two young men, boys really, caught in a dizzy car chase, driving wildly with an injured dog in the back seat, trying to get away from a pickup that's chasing them, in fact shooting at them. One of the boys, Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal), is in love with his thug-of-a-brother's young wife - we see her first coming home in her school uniform to spend a little time with her baby (her mother is the primary caregiver) -- and he dreams that the two of them, with the child, will run away from her nogoodnik husband. The dog, Cofi, is a fighting animal, and Octavio will manage him in big-money fights to make enough for his getaway.
But the boys crash into another car, injuring the leg of a model, Valeria (Goya Toledo), in the other car. She has just moved into a love nest with her older boyfriend Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), who has left his own wife and children for Valeria. They too have a dog, Richie, a Lhasa apso; and Richie's disappearance, one of the most delicious film moments in years, will trigger some witty if horrendous consequences for his owners. Their story is the second one we'll see.
The third part comes on us gradually. An old, shaggy-bearded street person, pushing a cart with his day's collection, is glimpsed at the accident site. He is El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), an old guerrilla fighter now working, we will learn, as a hired assassin. His dogs will also be important to the film.
Arriaga's script and Gonzàlez Iñárritu's direction sustain that almost impossible balance between farce and tragedy; the genius of the film lies in the way they let us come to know the people in each story, and see for ourselves just how they all got to the place in their lives where the writer and director found them. It also lies in the cinematography and editing. There is a clarity in each shot, and in each sequence of shots, that reflects and enhances the film's power. Largely hand-held but without calling attention to itself, the camerawork pulls us into the moment, and helps us feel as well as see the conflicts, the terror, and the wit as all protagonists dance on the little platform that encompasses life, death, and a kind of cosmic humor. An extraordinary achievement, in my view destined to become a classic of the decade.