Before The Revenant (2017), before Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), before Biutiful (2010), and before 21 Grams (2003), writer/director Alejandro Iñárritu made his feature debut with 2000’s hard-hitting Amores perros, a title translated to English as “Love’s a Bitch.” Iñárritu wove together three disparate stories centered-around love which examined the often soft emotion as something hard, chilling, and, at times, brutal. Joining the Criterion Collection as #1060, Amores perros is given the full-treatment for its upcoming release: a 4K restoration, new audio tracks, newly recorded bonus materials, essays, and more. If you loved the film in its initial release, are a Criterion completionist, or are just looking to delve deeper into Iñárritu’s bold-stroke debut, look for it as of December 15th, 2020.
Amid the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, Mexico, are a populace of people, each going about their lives, convinced that theirs are somehow unimportant, totally removed from any kind of significance. Via Octavio (Gael García Bernal), Valeria (Goya Toledo), and El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), the interconnectedness of life is brought into sharp focus as their lives collide amid a ferocious car accident. By following each before and after, Iñárritu asks the audience to consider just how delicate love truly is when wielded by those who misunderstand it.
After a brief title sequence, Iñárritu’s Amores perros, explosive from the start, opens with a car chase through the streets of Mexico City involving multiple near-misses that ends in a crash which serves as the focal point for all the stories. Via three narrative threads titled “Octavio and Susana,” “Daniel and Valeria,” and “El Chivo and Maru,” the film moves through time differently as it makes sure to focus primarily on that segment’s subjects, jumping backward at the start of each segment, but not necessarily having each catch back up by the end. Though it does introduce the other characters, no direct connection or explanation is presented until the start of that particular thread. By not providing countless details and explanations, Iñárritu’s stories feels alive, less of a story caught on celluloid and more a breathing thing that the audience catches up with at specific moments in time. That fact that 20 years later, the film feels just as jarring, just as uncomfortable, and just as fantastic, speaks to Iñárritu’s gift as a storyteller and his recognizing that while the events happen at a specific moment in time locked by technology and politics, they are timeless. Each story is a tale of love (requited, unrequited, familial, affectionate, obsessive, young, old, trans-species) that is, at its core, deeply problematic and disquieting to the point that none of the males within their respective narrative threads are heroes and the women are just barely more than property. It’s certainly not as polarizing as 2020’s Promising Young Woman in its treatment of women, but there’s unquestionably a toxic undertone that runs throughout. The thing is, nothing about Amores perros implies that either the director or the story is at all sympathetic to these men or that the audience should in any way feel that way. Rather, the story is just what the opening implies, a wild explosive ride. Don’t, however, mistake the opening to suggest what you’re about to experience is in any way action packed. There are sequences of action, that’s undisputable. The film is far more interested in conversations and self-reflection propelling the story. At 154 minutes long, you may grow uncomfortable in your seat, but not due to length, due to the growing sense that there is little reputable about the characters you get to know.
As someone who spends the bulk of their time (free or otherwise) watching films, there’s a preciousness to how one spends any moment in front of a film. Time is a resource one does not have in abundance nor can it be gathered into a surplus. Once gone, it’s gone. Despite what some gate-keepers might tell you, there is not a preferred genre, writer, director, or country of origin from which any audience should spend their time exploring, there is only what you love, what makes you curious, what inspires you to keep going in a story. This is the biggest reason I adore films released by distributors like Arrow Video, Criterion, Vinegar Syndrome; it’s that not only are the individual films they restore treated with care, but they often come with a bounty of special features. In the case of Criterion, sometimes it’s primarily a collection of previously released material (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai), but then there’re releases like Amores perros that are nothing but brand-new extended-length materials. In addition to the theatrical trailer and music videos for songs from the soundtrack, Criterion offers up over 101 minutes of exploratory materials all produced in 2020, along with two essays within the liner notes. If you’ve read other home release reviews on EoM, you’ll know that the thing which brings the most joy on a home release is an abundance of bonus materials, so put on your nicest bib and belly up to the proverbial table. Criterion has set forth a meal to enhance an already truly remarkable piece of cinema. One particularly important note is how it is clarified in several places within the included materials how the presence of dogfighting and animal abuse within the story are presented as a means of replicating the Mexico City Iñárritu knew at the time and that none of the animals shown on camera were ever hurt. With this knowledge in mind, looking at some of the wider shots, you can see the tell-tale marks of happy dogs (wagging tails, for instance) that are masked by an audio track of aggressive noises.
Regarding the restoration itself, it is one of the best I’ve observed this year, often better looking than some 4K UHD remasters recently in 2020 as well. Grain is noticeable, but does not overtake; colors are appropriately vibrant; and details are sharp. Again, if not for the obvious markers of 2000, Amores perros could very well be a new release. According to the liner notes, the digital restoration was done by the Criterion Collection, Estudio Mexico Films, and Altavista Films, who made a 16-bit 4K restoration from a scan of the 35 mm original negative. The accompanying materials claim that this restoration will appear closer to Iñárritu’s vision than the previous digital master. Both the new video and audio were supervised by Iñárritu, with the video also having had input from cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and the audio from supervising sound editor/designer Martin Hernández. As with other Criterion releases, the fact that they get the creators involved in the restoration adds a great deal of credibility to the release before it’s even consumed by a new audience. Having not seen other versions of Amores perros prior to this restoration, I can’t speak to any kind of comparison, but there is nothing particularly striking about the presentation to imply an imperfection.
Amores perros Special Features
- New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, with new 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray, supervised by Iñárritu
- New conversation between Iñárritu and filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski (28:20)
- New conversation among Iñárritu and actors Adriana Barraza, Vanessa Bauche, and Gael García Bernal (35:26)
- Prólogo: rehearsal footage with reflections by Iñárritu (5:53)
- Perros, amores, accidentes, a new documentary on the making of the film featuring behind-the-scenes footage (43:10)
- New interview with composer Gustavo Santaolalla (10:11)
- New video essay by film scholar Paul Julian Smith (23:42)
- Deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Iñárritu and Prieto
- Music videos for songs from the film’s soundtrack by Control Machete, Café Tacvba, and Julieta Venegas
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: Essays by critic Fernanda Solórzano and author Juan Villoro
- New cover by Pedro Reyes
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection beginning December 15th, 2020.