Amores Perros (Love's A Bitch) review

Four-legged friends aside, this year's second major canine movie couldn't be less like Christopher Guest's hilarious mockumentary, Best In Show. Alejandro González Inárritu's ferociously impressive debut arrives as a taut, fiercely unflinching portrait of love - or lust - in a tight spot, and how it brings out the slavering beast in people. The title translates as Love's A Bitch and the main meat of the film bears that out. So be warned: coiffured Shih-Tzus aren't the show-pups here.

Indeed, the dog fights in the opening story result in some horribly raw viewing, making Gladiator's tournaments look as groomed as, ooh, Best In Show's. But Inárritu claims the ugly mutts were unharmed, and you can't dispute his point that he couldn't explore this world without these distinctly hairy brawls. All three stories here are fact-based, and tightly leashed plotting, snappy cutting, ravaged colours and naturalistic performances - humans and dogs are almost interchangeable - give a sense of life on the edge captured as it is. The dogs were muzzled, apparently, but as film-making, Amores Perros lunges for your chest with its teeth bared.

Not that it's all muscle and no finesse. While the pace dips a notch as Inárritu slips us across class divides for the second segment, his storytelling flair speaks volumes. The jigsaw plotting's been compared to Pulp Fiction but, if anything, Amores Perros feels more humane, panoramic and organic, like Magnolia with all the grime of an entire city under its fingernails.

It doesn't stop surprising, either. There's a real sense of release to the closing story, a weeping wound of empathy centred on an ex-guerrilla's tragic separation from his family. Images of entrapment give way to open spaces, so you never suspect Inárritu of just abusing his characters. It's a movie that knocks the wind out of you, sure, but its complexity leaves a mark, too.

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