Rating: R for bloodshed, nudity, violence
Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Love’s a bitch, or so the title suggests. This sexually charged and narratively stylish Mexican Oscar nominee (for Best Foreign Film) is an influential and compelling triptych of intersecting lives that’s pleasurably reminiscent of the early works of Soderbergh and Tarantino.
Did I say pleasurably? Make that horrendously. The opening twenty minutes is a gruesome mix of a high-speed, adrenaline pumping getaway and the repugnant sport of dog-fighting. But oh, what a combination – compassionate, frenzied, and awash with voyeuristic shame.
Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) lives at home with his mother, brother, and his brother’s wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche), with whom he is secretly in love. Cognizant of the fact that his brother is cruelly abusing his spouse, Octavio sees a window of opportunity. To stash some cash, he accepts an invitation to enter his dog Cofi in a dog-fighting match, wherein the dog left standing (or living) wins the wagers. Cofi is a natural, and Octavio’s plan to steal away with Susana gathers steam as the fight opportunities escalate and the money pours in.
On the other side of the tracks, successful upscale magazine executive Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero) leaves his wife and kids for sexy, alluring supermodel Valeria (Goya Toledo). It’s a heady, exciting affair, until Valeria is seriously injured in a freak collision. In the blink of an eye, the rules are inexorably changed. Daniel suddenly feels trapped by the emotional pain and responsibility to his lover, who helplessly watches her flourishing career slip away.
The third party is the introspective El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria), an ex-guerilla turned assassin who has come to a crossroads in his life. El Chivo lives in a dirty hovel surrounded by a pack of stray dogs, and dreams of reconciling with his past. An unwilling witness to a injury mishap, El Chivo is forced to self-assess his priorities.
Six-degrees-of-separation has never felt so merciless and ironic. Joined together by a tragic accident, the fragmented characters struggle to come to terms with their troublesome circumstances. The narrative works its way into a bloody lather by gradually, almost painstakingly, unraveling the mystery of human connection and tenuous relationships. Machismo flows like a robust red wine, often with menacing results. Performances alternate between very good and startling, in particular that of Bernal, whose expressive eyes speak volumes of ragged emotion. Mexico city itself is a demonstrative beast – a teeming metropolis of 20 million pulsing with beauty and unspeakable corruption. Camerawork is a living, breathing element, utilizing strange light and limitless color.
To call this film difficult is an understatement. It’s a harsh testimonial to the human condition; an anthropological experiment made nascent by first-time Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. To dog lovers, a warning. All the tail-wagging goodwill built up by last year’s “Best in Show” is shot to bloody bits with the ghastly canine carnage of this undeniably fascinating drama. As for love, it’s a fickle mistress stripped bare in this complex masterpiece.