Cinema of Intersections – Crossed paths and Consequences in Amores Perros

Amores Perros (2000) revolves around themes of love, death, and redemption and intersects three separate stories which all connect through a car accident.  The film was shot in Mexico City but you don’t actually see Mexico City.  It could be any urban center in Mexico or Latin America, as the film has a very global or transnational look and feel.  The color palette is vibrant in blues, greens, yellows, and bright blood reds, reflecting Mexican culture and also the visceral and raw feel of the storyline.  The editing is dynamic and fast-paced, the angles are often skewed, and the cinematography reflects the closeness and raw authenticity of a mobile camera using mostly close and medium shots to linger on the character’s expressions.  The editing and framing also convey a spacial, social, and economic claustrophobia.

The narrative structure of Amores is similar to the film, Edge of Heaven (2007), by Turkish director, Fatah Akin, in its chronological weaving of time and space, crossed-paths, and consequences. Both of these films have three intersecting storylines with tragic consequences, and both use intersections within the film as the center of conflict within network of characters and relationships.  But whereas Akim’s themes revolve around a crisscross of culture and memory, Innaritu’s focus is more about the intersections of culture, neoliberal economics and the violence that is inherent within that system.  A Neoliberal economic system is basically where everything in a social and cultural system is subservient to an underlying, capitalistic system.  Life in general is commodified or subject to the earning, buying and selling that is necessary to survive in that system.The films have similar dynamics and depictions of time and space and show intersections as where one’s life’s choices reverberate and echo as consequences, but within two completely different cultures.

In Amores, the choices presented to the characters are all linked to their social and economic status and survival.  The intersections within the storyline demonstrate how global politics, greed, power, within a neoliberal economic framework, affect real people and limit their agency, which can often result in violent consequences. choices.  The coincidence of a dog-eat-dog economy, an existential anxiety, and an underlying commonality in the search for love, connection, and a desire for a piece of the pie within a system that codes everything as brand or a commodity.

The first story arc involves a lower, working class Mexican family and their everyday struggles to survive. Octavio and Susana, a brother and sister in law, fan a secret affection for each other while negotiating poverty, sibling rivalry, unwanted pregnancy, and abusive relationships within their family.  Ramiro, Octavio’s brother and Susana’s husband, is a violent, unpredictable thug, who works at Target by day and robs drugstores at night.  His only desire is for money so that he can get away from his claustrophobic domestic and financial situation.  Octavio appropriates Ramiro’s dog, Cofi, in order to make money through dog-fighting in order to gain love and respect from Susana.  Cofi becomes a commodity of exchange for Octavio, as well as a tool of revenge against his brother Ramiro. Susana, who has no intention of leaving Ramiro, allows Octavio to give her money which becomes another commodity exchange.  Cofi represents a recurring motif of dogs in all three story lines.  The relationship to dogs, which normally defies any kind of social or economic status, becomes not only expressions of their owner’s treatment and personality, but a form of monetary compensation.

The second story arc involves an adulteress relationship between a wealthy family man and a famous model, Daniel and Valeria.  Daniel acquires a separate apartment for Valeria, who believes he is going to leave his wife.  Valeria is young, beautiful, and spoiled and completely devoted to her dog, Richie, who she treats like a surrogate child.  Their apartment window looks out on a giant billboard of Valeria in a perfume ad, which symbolizes her body as a brand and a commodity.  When Daniel surprises her with the apartment after a television interview, she accidentally steps through a hole in the wood floor.  This is a foreshadowing of the “crack” in their perfect, upper class, love nest, and of tragedy to come.

The final story arc is that of a homeless man, El Chivo.  We gather from different clues in the film that El Chivo had once been a college professor and had then become an activist.   His activism somehow evolves into life as a guerilla and a paid assassin.  He is now a homeless man, living a with a pack of dogs in a dilapidated apartment.  While reading a newspaper one morning, he sees an obituary for his presumed ex-wife.  He attends the funeral in secret, watching his daughter from a distance.  His sister in law spots him and warns him to stay away from his daughter.  However, after the funeral he calls his daughter and leaves a message, and then begins watching her daily outside of her apartment.

The three characters literally collide in a car crash following a dogfight.  Cofi is shot by the villainous Jarocho, after his dog loses to Cofi in a fight.  Octavio stabs Jarocho and flees with his friend Jorge.  They are pursued by Jorocho’s gang in an explosive car chase, which results in a collision with Valeria, who is driving her car to buy some wine to celebrate the new apartment.  El Chivo and his dogs are witness to the crash.  Octavio, Jorge and Valeria are all transported to the hospital, while El Chico rescues a dying Cofi from the back seat of Octavio’s car.

The tragic consequences of the crash reverberates for each character differently.  As Octavio continues to fight Cofi and make money, he believes he is ensuring or purchasing his future with Susana.  But is he really in love with her? Or is his infatuation with her linked to his resentment and competitive economic relationship with his brother?  During a scene, in which Octavio and Susana are having sex over a bathroom sink, Octavia stares at himself in the mirror and then turns and gazes steadily into the camera, breaking the fourth wall.  It’s as if he is time traveling back from a future he already knows will end in tragedy.  He almost seems to be confronting the audience and saying “come on…do you really believe there are happy endings in a system like this”?   This is indeed confirmed for the spectator when Susana fails to meet Octavia for their final rendezvous to run off together.  Valeria returns from the hospital with permanent damage to one of her legs and cannot work.  She is confined to her wheel chair in her apartment, where she is constantly confronted with the herself as a brand staring back at her from the billboard outside.  As her body has typically been her only tradeable commodity, she retreats into a shell.  Her “self-brand” is destroyed.  While confined, she tragically loses Richie to the hole in the floor, where he is eventually killed by rats.  This is an interesting intersection, which may be symbolizing the crash as what happens when the social and economic classes meet.  Daniel, who is expecting a beautiful life with his model girlfriend who he has “paid for” with an apartment, increasingly withdraws from Valeria.  El Chivo is trying to purchase one last chance of connection, respectability, with his daughter by pulling off one more hit.   However, he opts for self-respect and the possibility of a new start with his daughter. When he abandons the hit, and leaves his client with his target together to finish each other off, he returns to his hovel to find that Cofi has killed all of the other dogs.  Despite good intentions, a literal dog-eat-dog scenario inserts itself as a consequence of the underlying neoliberal economy of Mexico.  El Chivo knows that Cofi is innocent, but his commodification has trained him to be violent.  This is another intersection that Innaritu uses to convey the violence inherent in a system which has essentially made El Chivo and Cofi the same. Both of them have been reduced to animal instinct and survival, and both are killers.

 

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