It’s difficult to remember a time when the hyperlink structure employed by writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu didn’t feel like a gimmick on which they sort of lazily fell back (before, of course, Iñárritu shifted to showy and similarly superficial long takes). Despite its bevy of Oscar nominations, Babel barely possessed the energy to sit up and wave, and obtuseness obscured Arriaga’s collaboration with director-actor Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
But Arriaga and Iñárritu’s narrative collisions of chance, connection and coincidence once leapt off the screen, most ferociously in 2000’s Amores Perros, which has been given a full restorative complement in a recent Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition.
The title translates in subtitles to Love’s a Bitch — a cheeky play on the perros (dogs) factoring into each of the plots here even as the pooches prove a perfect metaphor for our fierce, and sometimes blind, loyalty to someone … even as it might lead to our destruction.
Here, the seemingly circumstantial incident connecting several parties is a car accident — an apt appropriation of love as a head-on crash where it’s difficult to assess any damage done until well after the daze wears off.
An aged vagrant (Emilio Echevarria) laments the family he left behind. A sexy model (Goya Toledo) faces a career-ending injury. A teenager (Gael García Bernal) pits his dog against others in illegal fighting tournaments to fund an escape with his sister-in-law. (A note to dog softies: Be warned of copious canine carnage here.)
Political passion can pummel us into shells. The heat of infidelity is not a good precursor for a shift into a more tepid everyday existence of romantic love. The act of coveting can be selfishly confused for ardent love. Gustavo Santaolalla’s tremulous score helps make each of these points reverberate in the gut — no one story suffering at the expense of the other. Similarly, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s immersive, kinetic achievements here set the table for his storied career in Hollywood (working alongside Spike Lee, Julie Taymor, Oliver Stone and, in a long-running collaboration, Martin Scorsese). That stunning new Criterion art might emphasize Iñárritu as a de facto auteur, but Amores Perros is certainly a collaborative, cumulative effort.
And more than in any of their other collaborations (although 21 Grams, their English-language debut, comes close), Arriaga and Iñárritu exert such control over their story that even a cute doggie’s disappearance develops into a toilet-trained take on “The Telltale Heart.” Warts and all, Amores Perros is love, actually.
The Criterion disc features a new 4K digital restoration supervised by Iñárritu and Prieto, with an all-new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (also supervised by Iñárritu) and an all-new English subtitle translation. The contrast of blinding light and hidden shadow is immaculate on this transfer, and the aforementioned car crash along with the urban aesthetics of Mexico City represent an enveloping experience.
New special features include a conversation between Iñárritu and filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War); a conversation between Iñárritu and actors Bernal, Adriana Barraza (later Oscar-nominated for Babel) and Vanessa Bauche; an interview with Santaolalla; a new video essay from film scholar Paul Julian Smith; package essays by critic Fernanda Solórzano and author Juan Villoro; and Perros, amores, accidentes, a new documentary on the making of Amores Perros that features behind-the-scenes footage.
Additional features include the original film trailer, rehearsal footage with reflections from Iñárritu, deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Iñárritu and Prieto), and music videos for songs from the soundtrack by Control Machete, Café Tacvba and Julieta Venegas.