The Greatest films of all time: 84. Amores Perros (2000)/21 Grams (2003)/Babel (2006) (Mexico/USA/Japan)

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Introduction:

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Mexico made the above three films that are considered by some a “Trilogy of Death”, each three years apart. At age 37 in his debut feature, “Amores Perros” he was as a thunder known to the world, specially the western society and Hollywood that invested in his second part of the trilogy, “21 grams” in 2003, employing popular American cast, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and only a Mexican, Benicio del Toro with a budget of $20 million vs. the meager Mexican budget of $ 2.4 million for Amores Perros, the film made a sales profit 3 times more of $60 million. Then in third part of trilogy “Babel” in 2006 again invested by Hollywood and Japanese with again $20 million budget, starring famous American and Japanese cast, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Koji Yakuso and Rinko Kikuchi, and the only Mexican Gael Garcia Bernal, the film made almost 7 times sales profit of $135 million.    

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Although there is a theme of death in three films of Inarritu’s trilogy, and the first part title in original Mexican is translated as “Love’s a Bitch”, each three parts and the whole trilogy has a more important central theme that is “Life’s a Bitch” or in a better word, “Life is unfair”. So instead of one film, all Innaritu’s trilogy has been included in our list of the greatest films of all time as one film due to this strong philosophical, sociological or psychological theme or an unfortunate fact of life. The three films were put together here also as none alone could reach the greatest level, but all together did. Moreover each of the above three films are in fact a trilogy or three parts or three folded in itself. In Amores Perros, the lives of three couples Octavio and Susana, Daniel and Valeria, & El Chive and Maru are interconnected with a car crash and also a dog. In 21 Grams, again the lives of three characters, Jack, Paul and Cristina are tied together by a hit-and-run car accident and drug addiction. In the final chapter of the trilogy, Babel, Innaritu goes beyond a specific geographical zone and in this time the interlink of the main theme is not just between characters, but different nationalities in Morocco, US/Mexico, and Japan, and between the three couple characters of Susan and Richards, Amelia and Santiago, Chieko and Yasujiro Wataya.

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As alluded to the Innaritu’s trilogy that could be called “Life’s a Bitch” or “Life’s unfair” has a pessimistic but in a way realistic view on life that accident and sudden death happens unfairly to some universally around the world. In certain of these situations, people or victims may interconnect, but even if no there is no physical or personal connection, these kinds of misfortunes are universals and shared by the a common human soul. No filmmakers has depicted this common human theme in his or her work on the screen and Innaritu deserves the three films of his trilogy to be part of the greatest films of all time. While each film alone cannot satisfy the greatest films of all time ranking, due to some shortcomings and loose weaving between the parts in each film, altogether the philosophical or fact of life point attempted by Innaritu over a 6 years period is well taken and respected. In the following each films of Innaritu’s trilogy will be briefly discussed around the main theme of the unfairness of life and in conclusion all three will be weaved together in one common theme as Innaritu aimed to show so.

             

Amores Perros (2000):

1)Octavio y Susana

The first chapter of the three of the film titled Octavio and Susana is not just about the relationship of these two, but more about dog fighting and in between the abuse and unfair treatments of humans at the hands of each other. This part is the best of part of the film that is like a Triptych (like a three folded piece of art, painting or a manual) that gives the film a powerful and fast momentum to start with. In a flashback of an earlier incident that has ended in the Octavio (Gael Garica Bernal) and his friend with their injured black dog being chased vigorously by two thugs in a truck, trying to shoot at them. After moments of thrills and adrenaline rush in cars chase, an innocent woman, Valeria (Goya Toledo) whom we learn later on to be a supermodel is seriously injured after her car crushed by the chasing cars. In this opening scene, Inarritu achieved well what Quentin Tarantino could not this well in similar scenes in his Reservoir dogs and Pulp Fiction.

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 Then the film takes us back to the beginning of the incident in an underground dogs fight, where a wild local thug, Jarocho (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) manages to make good cash money with his dog killing other dogs. Proud of his dog on the way out with his thugs, he notices Octavio’s black Rottweiler, Cofi stray around on the street. He throws his winner dog as a fun to kill Cofi as well, knowing he belongs to Octavio who’s not present on the scene. Cofi manages to kill his dog instantly that leads furious Jarocho going to Octavio’s place in anger seeking revenge. He asks him to pay back for his lost dog or take Cofi for another fight with his other dogs. In between the film goes back and forth to the other characters, Valeria whose her married boyfriend, Daniel (Alvaro Gerrero), a fashion magazine publisher has left his wife and two daughters for her. Again in a flashback before the car crash, Daniel surprises Valeria by taking her to an apartment that he has just bought for her so they live together and continuing with their affair.

At the same time there’s another affair and infidelity going on between Octavio who pushes his brother’s wife, Susana (Vanessa Bauche) into an affair. There are other affairs and infidelity and abuses going on by Ramiro (Marco Perez) who’s Susana’s husband and Octavio’s brother, who all three live together with the couple’s infant. Ramiro having sex around with the co-worker girls in a supermarket where he works while hits and abuses his wife as well and at his extra time, does robbery. Octavio with the plan of running away with Susana is tempted to use his dog, Cofi to fight and make money to be able to execute his plan. Cofi keeps killing Jarocho’s dog one after another and Octavio and his friend keeps making enough cash money that he hands them all right away to Susana who is not yet eager to run away and have an affair with him as she does not see it right. After being beaten badly by some guys per order of Octavio, Ramiro in revenge leaves with Susana and all his money.

In the last fight Jarocho invites Octavio to have his dog to fight with his new dog in a private place with no spectators and betters. As soon as Jarocho sees Cofi is about to rip apart his dog, he shoots him and end the fight. Octavio and his friend in shock after a minor protest, carry Cofi into their car. Then Octavio returns back in and stabs Jarocho in belly off guard fast so he cannot defend himself and use his gun. Then Octavio drives away with his friend and wounded and bleeding Cofi in their car, while two Jarocho’s thugs in a truck chase after them and we go back to the opening scene of the film. In between these scenes and four main characters of the first chapter, Octavio, Susana, Valeria and Daniel, there is a fifth and main character of the film, El Chivo (Emilio Echevarria) who will be the main persona of the third part of the film, while he is shown enough in the first and second parts as well.

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El Chivo is presently an old vagrant man living on the street, carrying his belongings in a grocery cart and saves the stray and abused dogs and shelters them. Soon we learn that he is an assassin who shoots and kills a businessman at lunch time in a restaurant in the first chapter. We also learn that he has left his wife who has been remarried when their daughter very young and now has grown to a young woman. Seemingly to miss his daughter, Maru (Lourdes Echevarria) (who’s his real daughter in real life) follows her with the hope to see her again. Three of these character who are the center of each of the three chapters, Octavio, Valeria and El Chivo meet accidentally at the end of the first part in the car crash. El Chivo straying around on the street chasing another victim to assassin, is interrupted by the car crash that attracts his attention. He approaches the crashed cars, sees injured Cofi and lots of cash in Octavio’s car and takes the dog and money, while sees Valeria eye to eye as well.

2)Daniel y Valeria

Opposite to the first part of the film that is full of action, brutality and infidelities, the middle part that supposed to be as in a triptych art format, the main section and central, it is slow and boring. It is all about after the car crash and the affair between injured Valeria, now moved to the apartment living with Daniel on wheelchair with a broken leg and neck. Again there’s a dog connection in this part as well and a major part of this chapter is consumed on Valeria’s little dog, Richie that one day, jumps down the under floor through a broken hole of the hardwood floor. She and Daniel on and off, day and night keep calling and searching for her by throwing light of a flashlight with no avail. Even Valeria goes off wheelchair to call her through the hole and hurts her leg more that finally ended her leg gangrened and amputated. The lost dog creates big fights between the couple as well and sours their relationship and depresses Valeria of her fate that as a supermodel has ended.  

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3)El Chivo y Maru:

Although the last or third part of the film is livelier than the middle or second part, it is still not able to catch up with what Innaritu impressed the viewers right from the start of the film with the first chapter. In this last part the center of the story is about the old vagrant who we learned already is an assassin and we now learn that he has been a guerilla fighter before who left his wife and daughter to fight for democracy in his country. Imprisoned for 20 years, he was released to work as an undercover assassin for the government and is ordered to kill whoever the corrupt police wish to eliminate. The victims are not political opponents but ordinary people whom two corrupt police officers order him to kill for money. In this part like the two chapters dogs are central as El Chivo nurses several dogs found on the street including Cofi.

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The characters of the first part reappear in the last part again. Ramiro is killed by the an undercover cop during one of his usual robberies, then Octavio meets Susana at his funeral after a long time, but she refuses to go with him. One day coming back after a mission, El chivo finds Cofi has killed all his other dogs mercilessly. While about to shoot and kill Cofi, he realizes that he like him is a killer and let him live. After breaking into his daughter, Maru’s apartment and leaving her a message on her phone that how much he still loves her, and leaves her a lot of cash, he packs and selling his car, walks out of the city followed by Cofi.      

21 Grams:

21 Grams like the middle part of Amores Perros in Innaritu’s trilogy is slow and somehow boring. The story here is centered around drug addiction of Jack (Benicio de Toro), a former convict who is using his new-found religious faith to recover from his addiction, Paul (Sean Penn) a mathematics professor who suffers from a fatal heart condition with a dedicated wife, Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourgh), and Cristina (Naomi Watts) another recovered drug addict living with her supportive husband and two children. These three separate characters will be tied together one evening when Jack kills Cristina’s husband and children in a hit-and-run car accident, another common theme as in Amores Perros. The husband’s heart is donated to Paul, who begins gets a new life, but Cristina is devastated by her grave loss and relapses to her addictions.

Paul hesitantly agrees to his wife’s idea of surgery and artificial insemination as a last effort to get pregnant, but finds out from the doctor before the surgery that his wife had an abortion when they had a brief separation in the past. He leaves his wife in anger, and tries to find his heart donor and when he learns he was Cristina’s husband, he follows her around. Jack out of guilt of having killed someone and ran away, he relapses into his addiction again and finally turns himself in. In jail, he gives up on his religion believing that God had betrayed him and attempts suicide. He is released after Cristina declines to press charges, but more guilt now on his shoulders, he quits his previous normal family life, and leaves his family to live in seclusion and working in manual labor.

Paul finally meets Cristina and the two believing there is a connection between them through her husband’s heart, get into a relationship. But Cristina not yet over her loss, specially her girls, encourages Paul to kill Jack in revenge. The couple finding out that Jack is now living in a motel, they rent a room there as well and Paul in the first opportunity grabs jack at gunpoint to kill him. Finding Jack now a miserable person and arrested in life with guilt, Paul changes his mind and asks him to disappear. Then he lies to Cristina that he has killed Jack, but later on in the evening while both sleeping, they are awakened by a noise outside their door, and find out Jack outside in misery and consumed by guilt, pleas Paul to finish him. Cristina disappointed with Paul in anger beats him with a wooden lamp that causes him to collapse, but gets hold of the gun and shoots himself. Jack and Cristina rush Paul to the hospital and Jack tells the police that he had shot Paul, but later on he is released when his story cannot be confirmed. ). When Cristina offers to donate blood for Paul in the hospital, she learns to be pregnant, and after Paul’s death, she is shown at the end of the film starting a new life preparing one of her daughter’s bedrooms for the new baby. Jack is shown also returns to his family.

 

While the stories of Amores Perros and Babel are shown in non-linear fashion and by flashbacks, the stories of 21 Grams are depicted in such jumpy, zigzag non-linear flashbacks back and forth in different past and present times that takes a heavy toll on the viewers mind to figure out the story and put the pieces of the puzzle together. Innaritu did not repeat such experiment again in his next films including the last part of his trilogy, Babel as perhaps he realized himself that he had done in exaggeration in 21 Grams.

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Babel (2006):

The story of Babel is not just about different characters in a specific geographical location to be interrelated by an accident or event, but in addition in four different countries. The film opens in a remote area of Morocco, where a man walks into the house of a local in a village and sells the father a Winchester rifle for his two sons use in killing jackals when show up to attack their goat herds when attend daily on the local dry mountains. The boys try to shoot with rifle on the first day of attending their herds to see if shoots as far as three kilometers as the seller proclaimed. The older brother, Ahmed attempts to shoot at a tourist bus far down on the road that he misses, but his younger brother, Youssef manages to shoot the bus that the bullet passes through the window and critically injures an American woman, Susan (Cate Blanchett) sitting by the window beside her husband Richard (Brad Pitt).

 

While the boys realizing what had happened and flee the scene and hiding the rifle in the hills, Richard asking the bus to stop and plea for help and take his wife to a doctor or hospital. Since the nearest hospital is about four hours far away, they arrive at a village where there is a local doctor could examine and perhaps treat Susan. Richard manages to call back home to his family through the only available phone in the house of a local and the news speedily reaches the media and TV. The US government suspecting the shooting a terrorist act, pressuring the Moroccan government for investigation and prosecution. The Moroccan police traces the owner of the rifle through finding the shot bullet on the hill and rash to the house of Hassan who sold the gun to Ibrahim to be used by his sons to scare away jackals. The boys when arrive at home confess to their father what had happened and the three flee from their house to the hills that the police corner them and on an open fire at them, Ahmed is hit in the leg and Yussef returns fire and hits a police officer in the shoulder. Yussef realizing his brother’s injury and afraid of him dying, surrenders himself and confesses that it was him and not his brother who shot the woman tourist.

Meanwhile back at their home, in San Diego, California, Richard and Susan’s young son and daughter are nursed by a Mexican nanny, Amelia, who is now trying to find a replacement for a day to attend her son’s wedding in her village at the Mexican border, now that the couple’s return has been postponed. Desperate Amelia decides to take the children with her to the wedding along with her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) who drives them. They cross the border uneventfully and arrive at the wedding, while the children play with the Mexican kids in the wedding, catching chickens and other games. Driving back at the end of the night with drunk Santiago who is about to run into a couple of accident, they arrive at the American border. The custom at the border become suspicious of two Mexicans having two American children with them in the car, specially that Amelia has no letter of consent from the children’s parents allowing her to take them out of the United States. Impatient and intoxicated, Santiago trespasses the border and soon abandons Amelia and the children in the dark desert, attempting to lead off the police chasing their car. Afraid them to die without food and water in the desert, Amelia leaves the children behind to find a help. Finally finding a US border patrol car, they search the desert for the children and since no luck, she gets arrested and ordered deport for working illegally in US, despite the children have been found in the interim.

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At the same time back in the Moroccan village, Susan’s wound is sutured by a local veterinarian without anesthesia. The other tourists, all westerners, surprisingly lose their patience and not willing to be stranded in the village longer, have the bus driver to leave while Richard was on the phone with US embassy asking for help. Eventually a helicopter lands in the village and Susan along with Richard is taken to a hospital in Casablanca, where she is finally recovered and soon they will depart for US, back to their children.

The third part of the story of the film takes place in Tokyo, Japan between Chieko Wataya ( Rinko Kikuchi) a deaf Japanese teenage girl, traumatized by the recent suicide of her mother, and her father, Yasujiro Wataya (Koji Yakusho). Chieko desperately looking for a sexual encounter to alleviate her grief and confusion, by exhibiting her bare private under skirt to young boys sitting across her and friends on another table. Later on at their apartment, a detective arrives to ask questions from her father in relation with the rifle registered under his name that was used to shoot Susan in Morocco. Thinking that the detective is investigating her mother’s suicide, she tells him that she jumped off the balcony while her father was in sleep. Just before the detective leaves as her father is not home yet, Chieko undresses herself and approaches the detective seducing him for a sexual encounter. The detective in surprise pushes her away, then comforts and covers her when she is in tears and leaves. Before leaving Chieko writes him a note, asking to open and read it after he has left.

 

Leaving the apartment, the detective runs to Chieko’s father arriving home and questions him about the rifle. He explains that he gave his rifle as a gift to Hassan Ibrahim, his hunting guide on a trip in Morocco. When the detective offers condolences for his wife’s suicide by jumping of the balcony, Yasujiro angrily replies that his wife did not jump off but shot herself in the head and Chieko was the first to find her dead. When her father arrives in the apartment, Chieko is leaning on the balcony nude. The two embrace as she breaks down in tears and the film ends.

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With Babel, Innaritu took the subject of interrelation of people across geographical borders. Innaritu’s last part of his trilogy like the other two parts has no car accident as a link, but a rifle that has been given as a gift by Japanese Yasujiro to a Moroccan who sells it to the father of Ahmed and Yussef who shoot and wound Susan, whose children left stranded on a desert by their Mexican Nanny. The film like the other two parts go beyond an object or accident connection people, and depicts that life could be a bitch or unfair, when is threaten or lost by an accident. This could bring people closer to each other, but more importantly to appreciate life for whatever is as in given moment it could be threatened and taken for nothing.

Conclusion:

In closing remarks “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel” altogether as a trilogy film one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:  

  1. Originality: The whole idea of sudden threat or loss of life out of nowhere or putting it pessimistically “life is a bitch” or “life is unfair” is an original idea depicted on the screen by Innaritu in three parts of his trilogy in the “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel” within 6 years period.
  2. Technicality: The technicality of the whole trilogy first lies in the idea of the three films that was written by Guillermo Arriaga as scripts and Innaritu actualized them on the screen. The technicality of the first part of “Amores Perros” is obvious with the right fast accidental tempo action of brutality, injury and death. This slows down in 21 Grams, though not much in philosophical meaning of the content and picks up a bit in Babel.
  3. Impact Factor: The influence of “Amores Perros” has been so much specially on Hollywood that brought fame to Innaritu and was invested in first by Americans to make the 21 Grams, then by Japanese as well as joit venture to make his last part of trilogy, Babel that made the most box office sales of the three films.
  4. Survival: Innaritu’s trilogy have survived well to this day as each film is still fresh and enlightening to watch and also the idea of Guillermo Arriago and Innaritu have survived well to the future in similar conceptual films made elsewhere.
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