Sending shock waves through the Mexican film industry and the world, this blistering feature debut from Alejandro Iñárritu brought the director’s electrifying visual style and bravura multistrand storytelling to the screen with the heart-stopping impact of a primal scream. In Mexico City, the lives of three strangers—a young man (Gael García Bernal) mixed up in the gritty underworld of dogfighting, a glamorous woman (Goya Toledo) who seems to have it all, and a mysterious assassin (Emilio Echevarría) who is desperate to reconnect with his estranged daughter—collide in a tragic twist of fate that forever alters their personal journeys. A tour de force of violence and emotion captured in a rush of kinetic handheld camera work, Amores perros is an unforgettable plunge into a world of brutality and aching, interconnected humanity.
Criterion presents Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Amores perros to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The film has been given an all-new 4K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative, and it’s delivered here with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
I'm not sure why this is the case, but I had never seen the film prior to this edition, so I cannot compare directly to the previous Lionsgate DVD and Blu-ray releases, though comparing it to a high-def stream of the film this one does end up looking a bit different, though I wouldn’t say all that significantly, it's just been enhanced. As explained in the features found on the disc, the film, when developed, went through a bleach bypass process (or “skip-bleach”), which means the silver in the film stock is left intact (not bleached out) leading to deeper blacks, desaturated colours, and increased contrast. The old high-def stream I sampled still had a similar look, but it’s far more intense on this Blu-ray, especially the contrast, leading the image to almost look blown out at times. Black levels still hold on strong, and while yes, the colours do look desaturated and come off very blue-ish, I still thought they managed to pop.
The presentation also looks incredibly film-like. The grain can be gritty, even heavy, but it’s rendered fantastically, never looking like noise. Details are razor-sharp throughout as well, and I can’t recall any instance where the image even goes even a wee bit soft. Restoration work has also cleaned things up beautifully and I don’t recall any blemish or issue. It’s a terrific looking image, and though I doubt Lionsgate would have ever even offered it as an option for Criterion, this would look absolutely incredible in 4K. I’m hoping, at the very least, Lionsgate may see fit to release the film on the format in the future.
The film’s 5.1 surround soundtrack is presented here in DTS-HD MA. To match its intense visuals and quick editing the sound design really goes all out, right from the very first frame. The film opens with what appears to be a car chase, with loud music, a lot of yelling, and things whizzing by with some crashes and screeches thrown in. It’s a lot, but it’s mixed beautifully, taking full advantage of the surround environment, moving things naturally by the viewer with a significant amount of range. Bass also gets a lot to do but is never overpowering.
While the film isn’t go-for-broke through its entirety, even the quieter moments mix things in an interesting manner. Most dialogue is focused to the fronts, but there’s decent space with everything sounding to be spread out. Music is mixed aggressively through all of the channels, though is kept low when needed. Even the dog fight sequences present subtle echoes that work around the viewer. But the mix can be quieter and more “meditative” (I guess you can say) when it needs to be, yet it still has a punch to it. It’s also crystal clear, damage never being an issue. It’s a really sharp sounding presentation.
Lionsgates’ previous releases featured a number of featurettes and even an audio commentary from the director and writer. Outside of three music videos from the film’s soundtrack (Control Machete’s “De Perros Amores,” Café Tacvba’s “A Vientame,” and Julieta Venegas’s “Me Van a Matar”), the film’s trailer, and some deleted scenes, nothing else has been carried over. The deleted scenes appear to be the same ones found on the old Lionsgate editions (again, I haven’t seen it first hand), and like those editions there is an optional commentary for them here as well, featuring Iñárritu and director of photography Rodrigo Prieto (the commentary is newly recorded, though). The commentary explains why the scenes were cut and ultimately it was because they really added nothing, repeated things covered in other scenes, or really lacked an energy (Iñárritu hates exposition scenes where the characters just walk and talk, for example). Though I wouldn’t say any of the scenes were needed they’re still worth watching, as a couple of characters that only get few seconds in the film get some more time here, and there’s also what would count as an alternate ending.
The rest of the material is all exclusive to this edition, most of it produced by Criterion. The first is a 28-minute interview between directors Iñárritu and Pawel Pawlikowski (conducted remotely), both of whom had also done an interview together for Pawlikowski’s Cold War. It’s similar to their previous interview in structure, though the roles are reversed this time, Pawlikowski now asking questions. Iñárritu starts out by talking about the difficulties of being a filmmaker in Mexico before getting into the journey of making the film, entering it into film festivals and then getting it (eventually) released. They also touch on the dog fights (which were all simulated), the importance of dogs to the story, and the editing process, the original cut being well over 3-hours. It’s a engaging reminisce of the film’s production on Iñárritu’s part, with Pawlikowski throwing in his own observations around the film here and there.
Criterion then throws in a reunion between Iñárritu and three of the actors in the film: Adriana Barraza, Vanessa Bauche, and Gael García Bernal, who all meet remotely. This one is a bit lengthier, running 35-minutes, and the three recount the experience of making the film, working with each other and the other actors, and share thoughts on their characters. Bernal, interestingly, had to hide the fact he was working on the film lest he would be kicked out of school. The director also chimes in with some additional details around elements of the films, like influences for the stories in the film (the dog that inspired one plot point in the film met a rather nasty end in real life), and he also talks about this new restoration with a side-by-side comparison between the old presentation and Criterion’s new one (and I think Criterion's is substantially better).
THis edition then includes over 5-minutes of rehearsal footage, all standard-definition digital, Iñárritu speaking over and explaining what he wants from a performance and how each step of constructing the film, from writing to filming to editing, morphs the film. He also compares a finished film to a person, the script being the brain, the footage being the body, and the editing being the heart. This is then followed by the 43-minute making-of documentary, Perros, amores, accidentes. This does start out a little rough, as Iñárritu did film actual dog fights, some of which plays in the opening, so one may want to skip the first minute or so. Past that the documentary (made entirely of behind-the-scenes footage) goes over a lot of the technical details of the film, including how the dog fights were done (surprisingly, mechanical stand-ins were used for some shots) as well as the car crash. There is also footage around some other central sequences. There’s also a moment where narration explains how local gangs had to be paid off to film in the area. It’s a great technical documentary with a number of surprises in it.
Criterion has also managed to get an interview with the film’s composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, who talks about his first starting out as a composer and thinking behind the film’s score, which included hitting what sounded like the “wrong” notes. There is also a new video essay around the film and its impact on Latin American cinema at the turn of the century, produced and presented by film scholar Paul Julian Smith. He recounts first seeing the trailer for the film, which blew him away, and then goes into his reaction and the reaction of others after seeing a screening (Mexican middle class were worried how the film would make the country look). He then gets into some the film’s narrative structure, its camera work, and its editing. I found it a rather insightful and enjoyable 23-minute piece.
The release then includes a booklet featuring two excellent essays: one by Fernanda Solórzano, who recounts the premiere before examining the film, and then the other by author Juan Villoro, who writes a wide-ranging piece on first hearing about the film (he was told about it by one of the film’s actors whom he had worked with previously) and then how it reflects Mexico at the time and today.
Again, Criterion hasn’t been able to port over the other supplements. I liked Iñárritu’s commentary over the deleted scenes (plus his contribution to many of the other features) so I would have been happy to get it here. Despite the lack of that item, though, this is still a very well-rounded edition providing wonderful details about its production and its impact on Latin American cinema, while also placing it in the context of that time period in Mexico.
A wonderful new special edition for the film, delivering an outstanding presentation and some superb supplementary material. It’s very highly recommended.