Column: Celebrating the 20th anniversary of a great filmmaker’s debut

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

Sometimes the talent of a filmmaker is evident right away. That was certainly the case with the great Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose debut film “Amores Perros” recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The title is loosely translated into both “Love Dogs” and “Love’s a Bitch,” and both titles are fitting.

The anniversary of the film’s Mexican release was actually June 16, but I just happened to see the film for the first time last night, so this celebration is a little belated.

Iñárritu has perhaps become more well known in recent years after winning back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Director, winning in 2015 for “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” and in 2016 for “The Revenant.” He is one of just three directors to win the award in back-to-back years.

This potential first showed itself in “Amores Perros,” a powerful and sometimes shocking film that lends a lot to the structure of “Pulp Fiction.”

It begins with a car chase and violent crash in the streets of Mexico City, and then traces three separate stories that all become linked by the crash. The story arcs take place before the crash as well as in its aftermath.

The first story takes place mostly before the crash, and leads up to the chase that opened the film. A young man named Octavio (Gael García Bernal) gets in trouble with some local gangsters after his dog is set loose and kills the gang leader’s prized fighting dog.

Octavio needs to get money to pay the gang leader back for the dog, and begins to enter his dog into fights as well. He also begins to fall in love with the wife of his bank-robbing brother Ramiro, who is violent and unpredictable

But Octavio soon finds himself on the gang’s bad side and is chased through the streets with a badly wounded dog in the back seat of his car.

The entirety of “Amores Perros” is not for the faint of heart, and the dog fighting sequences are particularly hard to watch. There is a disclaimer that no dogs were harmed in the filming of the movie, but that does not make these scenes easier to watch.

The dogs were actually playing in these scenes, Iñárritu has said, and quick cuts and vicious sounds effects are used to make it feel real. In scenes with dead or injured dogs, the dogs are safely sedated under the supervision of experts.

The illusion is startlingly effective, and dog lovers will likely have a very hard time watching these parts of the movie.

Another thread involving the crash follows a young model (Goya Toledo) and her new lover (Álvaro Guerrero), a man who has just left his wife and children to be with her. She is badly wounded in the crash, throwing her career and new love life into disarray.

The third story involves an older, heavily bearded homeless man, played by Emilio Echevarría,  who is seen throughout the other two story threads as he roams the streets with a pack of stray dogs he has adopted.

We learn that he was a college professor with a wife and young daughter when he left to become a guerilla fighter. He spent 20 years in prison and became a hitman when he is released. His story is the most emotionally charged of the three, as he deals with the guilt of having left his family behind and attempts to reconnect with his daughter. He has replaced his family with his dogs, but he is never free of his past.

He is on a job near an intersection when the car crash happens behind him, tying all three stories together in a tight and brutal way.

The car crash is shown four times in the movie, with different scenes leading up to it and following it. Each time it is a shocking event, even though you often know when it is coming.

The sheer speed and violence of the crash is a powerful spectacle, but each time it occurs there are more emotions involved. You begin to learn more about the characters in the cars, and it soon becomes more than just mangled metal and shattered glass. It is an event that changes the lives of these characters forever.

“Amores Perros” was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, starting a streak for Iñárritu. All six of the feature-length movies he has directed have been nominated for at least one Oscar, winning a combined eight. Iñárritu himself has won four Oscars.

It is always fun to go back to the debut of a great filmmaker, to see where it all started. For Iñárritu, it started with a crash.


Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]