Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amores Perros

This year at Cannes, for the first time ever, director Alejandro González Iñárritu is going to debut a movie not written by Guillermo Arriaga. I'm excited, because Inarritu is a top flight filmmaker who really needs to get someone else writing screenplays for him. Not that I hate Arriaga, but he's kind of a one trick pony, as evidenced by their first collaboration, Amores Perros.

So, as you should already know, it's a film about several characters tied together by one central event. In this case, a big, really nicely executed car crash that opens the film. It's caused by dog fighter/douchebag Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) who did some stupid things while trying to get money to run away with his abusive douchebag brother's wife (Marco Perez as the brother, Vanessa Bauche as the wife). He runs into successful model and owner of an astonishingly stupid dog Valeria (Goya Toledo) who has really shrill arguments with her man Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), who just separated from his wife so they could live together in an apartment with a hole in the floor and an amazing view of the successful model's legs. Saving the best for last, there is also the Hobo Assassin (Emilio Echevarría), who goes around being awesome with his pack of wild dogs and his regrets.

So, we have three stories crammed together into one film, all about how love screws you in some way (a translation of the title is Love's a Bitch). While it's the beginning of the collaboration, having seen this film last of the three that director and writer collaborated on, it's familiar ground that they will pretty much draw all life out of following this. While it's handled in a relatively clever way in 21 Grams, and there is a lot more of it in Babel, between the three films they have done pretty much everything possible with the structure.

The question with this is, does this need the structure at all? Two of the three stories could do perfectly fine as a stand alone feature. The douchbag dogfighter chapter needs a bit of fleshing out post-accident and it's will do fine. It feels more familiar than the other two, but it would certainly work well as a film of its own. It's got an interesting perspective on a battered wife that doesn't really get explored enough - why is she so loyal, for instance?

The best chapter, however, is that of the Hobo Assassin. Never mind how cool he is - there's a scene where he goes over a hill with obligatory ass-kicking music and his hobo cart and feral dogs, it subverts cool action hero cliches and is completely awesome in its own right. Where was I? Oh right, it doesn't matter that he's just cool, he's got a compelling story, the arc of his assassination attempts on a rich guy with greasy hair is compelling and there's a bit more that can be done with the characters involved in the assassination plot. He is, on his own, much more interesting and compelling than every other character in the story, and really deserves a complete two hours rather than having to compete with two other stories.

So, why doesn't the accident victim deserve an entire film devoted to her? Well, it's a big dead weight in the middle of the film. For some reason, Arriaga writes people who have recently been in debilitating and life ruining accidents as shrill, screaming morons without common sense. This was especially apparent in Babel, but it's pretty bad here, as the character of Valeria - who should be at least a little sympathetic - wears out her welcome early and then wastes away any remaining good will by just being annoying, until being annoying and jealous. Her boyfriend bitch slapped by the screenplay, as it seems to suggest that he got what he deserved for leaving his perfect in every way wife, who is on screen for so little we don't understand why he left her. They're not very interesting characters, and then they make themselves hateful, Valeria especially taking what should be an identifiable character and ruining her with shouting, pettiness and jealousy. It smells of someone wanting to focus on the victim, and then trying in vain to make a story around a woman sitting in a wheel chair with a stupid dog underneath the floor boards for some reason, by trying to incite marital drama that has no need to exist.

That said, this was mostly a good movie, and the dead weight in the middle is prime opportunity for a bathroom break or to get some snacks. It does make me think that the Inarritu/Arriaga partnership needed to end. Inarritu is just too good of a filmmaker to keep making these same pictures over and over again. I wonder what he can do with a narrative that's a bit more focused. Arriaga needs the confidence to fit only one story in his pictures, as the timeline-jumbling everyone-is-connected thing got stale quickly and smells of someone who doesn't have enough confidence in his own work to follow through with an idea. Someone needs to do a proper, feature length film focusing entirely on the Hobo Assassin, he really deserves to shine.

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