Before its first kinetic images even hit the screen, Amores Perros displays a disclaimer that no animals were harmed during the making of the film. Still, animal lovers are hereby forewarned: No such reassurance will blunt the visceral impact of the authentic dogfighting scenes and canine carcasses strewn throughout Perros' generous running time. But Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu's audacious debut thrives on primal emotions, and his ability to make those emotions register so forcefully is a tribute to his formidable talent. Amores Perros' title, which translates as "Love's A Dog," metaphorically extends across three separate stories connected by a pivotal car crash, and unfolding in a circular structure with a more-than-passing resemblance to Pulp Fiction. But similarities between the two are largely superficial: Iñárritu may be guilty of blatant pillaging, but his sources—including Krzysztof Kieslowski, Edgar Allan Poe, and Luis Buñuel—are diverse, and he eschews the ironic detachment and pop-culture riffing of other post-Tarantino knockoffs. In the relationships between dogs and their human counterparts, love is never to be taken lightly, because the cruel hands of fate may cause its intensity to boomerang, with devastating effects. The first and strongest of the three stories begins before the accident. It details the helpless attraction of a young man (Gaël García Bernal) to his thug brother's beautiful wife (Vanessa Bauche), who is pregnant with their second child. To raise quick money so they can run off together, Bernal enters the dangerous world of underground dogfighting, where the animals are trained to go for the jugular. The second tale, which carries echoes of Poe's "The Black Cat," takes place after the accident, which leaves a famous model (Goya Toledo) in a wheelchair with a shattered leg. When her beloved dog falls through the floorboards in her lover's apartment, she can only listen in horror to his pitiful whimpers as he's nibbled away by the rodents below. Bridging the previous two, the final storyline concerns an aging former guerrilla turned assassin-for-hire (played with enormous gravity by Emilio Echevarría) who takes in strays for company and monitors his estranged grown-up daughter. Iñárritu weaves his stories together with energy and intoxicating flair, but the connections between them are disappointingly vague and shallow, with ideas too trite to match his outsized ambition. At worst, Amores Perros could be characterized as merely sound and fury, but it's rare for any film to achieve its level of raw immediacy. For a first-time feature director, Iñárritu displays tremendous breadth of vision; depth may come later.
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