Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (translated as "Love’s A Bitch" on the English language poster, although Smith quantifies it as "dog loves" or "lousy love affairs") took the art circuit by storm on its release in 2000. It heralded a renewed interest in Mexican film, which had largely gone unexplored since the earlier international successes of Like Water For Chocolate (1992) and Cronos (1993), paving the way for such films as Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001 – also featuring Gael Garcia) actually getting cinema release in the UK. This was further bolstered by a parallel market that labelled Amores Perros as the "cool" film to see, consolidating its position as cult and arthouse in one. Partly this was because many English language reviewers compared it with Tarantino’s first two films – the opening featuring a major character bleeding profusely in the back of a car following an as yet unseen gunshot (although here the character is a dog and not Tim Roth) was seen as mirroring Reservoir Dogs (1992), while the two and a half hour running time with different overlapping stories was seen as being somehow Pulp Fiction (1994) (actually, structurally the film bears more resemblance to Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989) with its three plots linked to a common event).
This is a comparison that Smith vehemently refutes, backing his arguments with Mexican press releases on the subject and by commenting on film critics’ ignorance regarding Hispanic culture. While this is probably the case, it nonetheless helped bolster the film’s reputation outside its original market, eventually leading to an Oscar nomination and good box office takings in the UK, where foreign language films are notoriously difficult to sell. Smith’s indignation helps by providing a background for the film that allows it to become more relevant to an audience unaccustomed to Mexican culture. Thus the book examines the film’s relationship to Mexican media, including the proliferation of television soap dramas that the film occasionally comments upon.
There is also a discussion about the film’s controversial dog fighting scenes, another aspect of the media buzz outside of Mexico that seems to exasperate Smith. The argument that these scenes take up about two minutes of screen time may well be tru,e but they pervade much of the atmosphere of the entire first story arc and some of the third, providing the raison d’etre for the car crash and most of the plot. Similar arguments could be made for the fight scenes in Fight Club (1999), which also take up a relatively minor part of the film’s running time, but provided the kernel of much of the press vitriol about that film too. In the UK the controversy was more serious as the RSPCA complained to state censors the BBFC about the scenes of animal violence in the film. Fortunately Alejandro González Iñárritu had the forethought to document the film-making process to show that far from the dogs being injured, they were in fact enjoying the film-making process. Much of the ‘fighting’, disguised by whip blurs, handheld camerawork and effects, was actually the prelude to copulation!
Paul Julian Smith’s Amores Perros provides substantial background on the culture behind the film, the art and writing, as well as the film’s marketing and reception. He also provides critical analysis and works through the film’s themes and motifs. As such it is an essential purchase not only for those who appreciated the film, but as a springboard into the wider world of Mexican cinema.