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Love Hurts

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*Amores Perros (R)
Lion's Gate

Rougly translated "Love's a Bitch," this debut film by 37-year-old Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a startling, gritty exploration of love, loyalty and betrayal.

Filmed on location in Mexico City, in spite of being about 30 minutes too long, it's the most compelling, original film to come to the Springs this year.

Mildly reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic in its use of parallel story lines to explore a theme, Amores Perros is superior to that film and to others that have been positively compared to it because the emotional content is so genuine, so real. Many audience members will flinch at the unrelenting brutality in the film -- back alley dogfights, a horrific car crash and plenty of head bashing -- but the point driven home in the end justifies the means. Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are clear in their message: Violence begets violence, and that way of life corrupts and ruins.

Story one is the tale of Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernel) and Susana (Vanessa Bauche), brother and battered sister-in-law, living in the same house and sharing a desperate need for affection. Octavio dreams of leaving Mexico City and whisking Susana away from her abusive husband, and begins fighting his dog Cofi to finance his dream. Eventually, things go bad and he falls victim to the automobile crash that frames the film.

Story two involves Valeria, a blonde supermodel (Goya Toledo), and the married man, a fashion magazine editor, she's shacked up with. When Valeria is maimed in the same car wreck, the thin faade of her life of glamour begins to crack. Her dog, Richie, becomes trapped beneath the floorboards of her luxury apartment and the limitations of love are depicted by the physical barrier and distance between the two.

Story three rotates around a grizzly, bearded streetperson, El Chivo, played by Emilio Echevarria, whose only companions are a flock of stray dogs he has rescued. A former guerilla, El Chivo constantly regrets having left his wife and daughter many years back to go underground. When the central car crash occurs, he rescues a dying, bleeding Cofi from the curb where he has been left to die, and a series of events ensue that convince him he must leave his life of violence behind.

The acting throughout is superior, and Gonzalez Inarritu's flair with photorealism gives the film an immediacy and authenticity missing in most films that attempt, but fail, to depict working-class life in minute detail. The costumes, sets and panoramas are so consistently real that we can feel the heat of the egg frying on Octavio's plate of frijoles; we can practically smell the warehouse where El Chivo sleeps with his pack of mongrels.

Amores Perros is a shocking but deeply moral film, unlike its stylish predecessor Pulp Fiction. We are meant to experience a slice of life as it might actually occur, including the surreal circumstances that draw us all together as flawed, vulnerable humans, looking for love and stumbling through the potential pitfalls.

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