(director: Alejandro González Iñárritu; screenwriter: Guillermo Arriaga; cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; editors: González Iñárritu/Luis Carballar/Fernando Pérez Unda; cast: Vanessa Bauche (Susana), Gael García Bernal (Octavio), Umberto Busto (Jorge), Emilio Echevarria (El Chivo), Alvaro Guerrero (Daniel), Rodrigo Murray (Gustavo), Marco Perez (Ramiro), Jorge Salinas (Luis Miranda Solares), Goya Toledo (Valeria), Lourdes Echevarría (Maru), José Sefami ( Leonardo), Gerardo Campbell (Mauricio); Runtime: 153; Lions Gate Films; 2000)
“Iñárritu’s characters are full of life and earthy flaws, and things that are too much for them to comprehend.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Love’s a Bitch is an intricate film noir tale, living up to its tough sounding title. It’s a melodrama about violence and passion in a contemporary Mexican city. It spans all social classes: the underprivileged, the wealthy, and the disenfranchised. This compelling, lengthy (153 minutes) drama is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s auspicious directorial debut. It provides a look at the travails of obsessive love through three separate stories linked by a tragic car crash and canines that keep reappearing. The dogs play an important part in the three interlinking stories.

The first story entitled “Octavio and Susana,” starts out with an exciting car chase through the busy city streets. One vehicle is filled with crazed gunmen seeking revenge by firing at the car that has a dog in it that is bleeding to death. The car with the dog in it will crash into another car and that heavily influences the other two stories. Flashbacks reveal how the dog Cofi was shot by the owner of another dog, this is after it nearly killed his dog in a staged dogfight that they bet on.

The first part of the film is filled with powerful images of dogfights (they were simulated) in the barrio and the obsessive love one slacker brother, Octavio (Bernal), has for his older brother’s wife, the teenager Susana (Bauche). She is with one infant and is expecting another, and suffers from being a battered wife. Somehow, she loves the older brother Ramiro (Perez) more than she can love the more gentle younger one. Octavio’s obsessive dream is to get her to run away with him to Juarez and leave her no-good thief of a husband. He starts saving money and keeps it in a shoebox she keeps in her closet. It’s his hope that this money will enable them to live together. He raises the huge sums of money when he accidentally discovered that his dog is a champion dogfighter. He goes partners with his buddy Jorge, and the local dogfight ringmaster (Campbell) who puts up his stake money. He soon starts making lots of dineros to put in the shoebox, and he still has enough to buy a car.

The second story is entitled “Daniel and Valeria.” Here we meet a middle-aged, successful magazine editor Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), who has left his family to live with a much younger, beautiful supermodel Valeria (Goya Toledo). He’s rented a luxurious new apartment for her; her smiling image is on the imposing billboard that faces her window. But her happiness is short-lived, as she is in the aforementioned car crash and is confined to a wheelchair. There will be complications to her leg injury, as gangrene sets in and she loses the leg. Her love life is further tested when playing fetch with her miniature dog, and he falls into a hole in the floor and can’t be found. But there is sometimes a whining sound coming from under the floorboards, which compels the couple to keep looking for the dog. When looking for him, they discover thousands of rats there and fear that he won’t be able to survive. The probable loss of the dog (her love for him is an obsession) and her career being ruined, makes her depression even worst. The lost dog sequence seemed too forced and heavy-handed to have much impact; it was piling up the material girl’s misery much too high.

In the third story entitled El Chivo and Maru, the attention is focused on the homeless, disheveled, straggly, long white-haired man (Echevarria), someone we have seen sketchily in the other two stories walking the streets with a pack of stray dogs. We learn that his nickname on the street is El Chivo (Old Goat) and he is being hired by a rogue cop Leonardo (Sefami) to be a hit man for a nervous businessman, Gustavo (Rodrigo), who tells him that he wants his partner eliminated (he turns out to be a half-brother). The cop tells the bio of El Chivo, how he left his family and college teaching job and became a guerrilla fighter, and after a long prison term became a wino. He became disillusioned with his choice to save the world, and is now obsessed with his grown daughter Maru. He hasn’t been with her since she was two years old, and she’s been told by the family that he’s dead. El Chivo’s connection with the car crash is that he’s the first at the scene and rifles the money of the dead Jorge and the severely injured Octavio, and he rescues the badly injured dog Cofi and nurses it back to life.

There’s passion and excellent filmmaking and acting in these gritty stories, but there’s also too much of a story going on; and, it is too long of a film. But it is intoxicating in its edginess and harsh look at reality, and how sharply it focuses in on the characters’ dreams and obsessions. Iñárritu’s characters are full of life and earthy flaws, and things that are too much for them to comprehend. But they are always involving. An excellent debut film for the director, that touches in an original way on themes many other innovative indie directors (especially Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) are currently doing.

Amores perros (2000)