Film Is a Bitch

How Amores Perros revitalized Mexican film and music

The horrific car crash that commences the 2000 Mexican movie Amores Perros did more than jar viewers out of their seats and inaugurate a labyrinthine triptych of sex, revolution and dogs. The accident flipped Mexican art on its side, provoked miles of film from the nation's angry young auteurs, and allowed rock en español its most prominent showcase to date. Andit's a badass scene, one of many in a flick that, in the years since its release, has wielded a cultural influence not seen in Mexican art since the era of Rivera.

Perhaps most lasting will be Amores Perros' reinvigoration of its mother country's silver screens. Before the film's release, Mexican cinema struggled to escape from a decades-long quagmire of bloody narco-films featuring big-breasted women and the dwarves who chased after them. This ignominious era, which lasted roughly 30 years beginning in the late 1960s, was a national embarrassment for a country that once attracted such photoplay heretics as Sergei Eisenstein, Emilio "El Indio" Fernández and the Spanish surrealist Luís Buñuel.

But director Alejandro González Iñárritu forced the restless eyes of cinephiles down south with his multilayered debut, Amores Perros. The film is a cinematic habañero: Amores Perrostoys with time (the beginning car crash is also the end of each of the three stories), switches film stock according to mood, and splices scenes with the breakneck strut that only a former DJ like Iñárritu can walk. Amores Perros' dystopian images of urban unrest recall Buñuel's bleak 1950 masterpiece, Los Olvidados, while Iñárritu's direction is as assertive as that of Tarantino.

But going beyond impressive craft, part of Amores Perros' legacy rests on it garnering recognition not just for itself, but also other Mexican directors looking toward Hollywood for a wider audience. Mexican directors had trekked towards el Norte looking for fame and box office before—Alfonso Cuarón directed the criminally underrated A Little Princess in 1995 and Great Expectations in 1998, while Alfonso Arau parlayed his 1992 magical-realism feminist tract Like Water for Chocolate into a shot at directing Keanu Reeves in 1995's A Walk in the Clouds. Cuarón and Arau sulked back to Mexico, however, after both filmmakers produced financial flops.

Amores Perros' success opened the celluloid border again. The film didn't make that much money—a so-so $5 million in the United States on top of the $7 million it earned in Mexico. But that amount and the flood of publicity that enveloped the film from its Cannes premiere through other film festivals worldwide was the catalyst Hollywood needed to raid Mexico in a manner not seen since the silent days of D.W. Griffith, Dolores del Rio and Lupe Velez. Iñárritu transformed the success of Amores Perros into a guest gig, doing fancy commercials extolling the handle of a BMW Z4 roadster, a segment on the Sept. 11 documentary 11'9'01, and last year's big-release feature 21 Grams. With the success of Amores Perros, distributors felt confident enough to release Cuarón's 2002 risqué teen-sex-romp-meets-Zapatista-politics tome Y Tu Mamá También, which outgrossed Amores Perros, and that same year's tale of priest-woman love El Crimen del Padre Ámaro. Cuarón's able direction in the former convinced Warner Bros. to hire him to helm the third installment of the Harry Potter franchise, slated for release later this year. And Gael García Bernal's gritty performance in Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá Tambiénand El Crimen del Padre Ámaromade him Hollywood's latest jalapeño of the month: he gave a memorable anti-war plea as an Oscar presenter in last year's ceremony and will soon return to the screen as the young Che Guevara in the upcoming The Motorcycle Diaries, which arguably generated the most buzz at the just-concluded Sundance Film Festival.

Even more than film, however, Amores Perros focused much-needed attention on Latin alternative music, a genre always needing exposure. The film's soundtrack ranks alongside American Graffiti and Saturday Night Fever as one of the big screen's essential soundtracks, not only in gathering great songs but also in choosing tracks that reflect the sentiments expressed on film. And what sentiments!—everything from Celia Cruz's salsa paean to indomitability, "La Vida es un Carnaval" ("Life is a Carnival"), to a punkish banda version of the Molotov screed "Dame el Poder" ("Gimme the Power") and original compositions from hermit musicians such as Café Tacuba, Bersuit Vergarabat and Julieta Venegas. Many of the invited artists on the double album, much like Iñárritu and his ilk, also used Amores Perros as a catapult toward American fame. Remember that weird Levi's commercial featuring a homeboy with rubber legs strutting down the street while a thumping screech plays in the background? The song is Control Machete's "Sí, Señor," featured on Amores Perrosand a favorite tune of the Levi's pitch's director, Spike Jonze. When a snotty American like Jonze is ripping ideas from a Spanish-language movie, you know the película has chops.

Amores Perros was produced and directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu; written by Guillermo Arriaga; and stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Emilio Echevarria and Goya Toledo. It screens at the Claussen & Block Building, 410B W. Fourth St., Ste. 4, Santa Ana, (714) 543-1370. Sat., 6 p.m.$5 suggested donation.

 
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