First-time director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu demonstrates talent to spare in "Love's a Bitch," a Tarantino-esque thriller set in Mexico City in which the lives of three disparate groups of characters literally collide. Pic is a bit overextended in the later stages, but its main liability to attracting international audiences is the number of scenes in which dogs are injured or killed; though an end-credit disclaimer assures the viewer that no animals were harmed, numerous graphic dog-fight scenes during the film will be difficult for animal lovers.

First-time director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu demonstrates talent to spare in “Love’s a Bitch,” a Tarantino-esque thriller set in Mexico City in which the lives of three disparate groups of characters literally collide. Pic is a bit overextended in the later stages, but its main liability to attracting international audiences is the number of scenes in which dogs are injured or killed; though an end-credit disclaimer assures the viewer that no animals were harmed, numerous graphic dog-fight scenes during the film will be difficult for animal lovers. In some countries, censors may even step in to curtail these sequences.

Divided into three chapters, pic is cunningly constructed and, until near the end, briskly paced. But it’s the sheer confidence of the director’s storytelling abilities that impress; he handles a complex plot with clarity and precision while keeping audience members on the edge of their seats.

The film opens with a dynamically staged car chase through city streets; two young men, with a badly wounded dog on the back seat of their car, flee from pursuers in a jeep who are firing guns at them.

After some near misses, there’s a terrible crash at an intersection when the driver, Octavio, runs a red light and hits another car. This well-staged collision will be repeated, from different angles and perspectives, three more times during the film.

The drama proper begins with part one, “Octavio and Susana,” in which the fugitive from the prologue is intro-duced as a young man hopelessly in love with his beautiful sister-in-law, Susana, who lives in the same apartment. She seems to encourage him, but he needs money to get away, so he starts dealing with a guy who runs a brutal dog-fight business.

Cofi, Octavio’s savage dog, proves to be a born fighter, and soon Octavio is in the money — until one of his rivals shoots Cofi mid-fight, leading to the aforementioned chase. These scenes are certainly powerful, but with their squalid, ugly and bloody depiction of the nasty world of dog-fighting, they are likely to turn off a great many in the audience from almost the start of the film.

Part two, “Daniel and Valeria,” is a bitterly ironic depiction of a doomed relationship. Daniel, a successful mid-dle-aged magazine publisher, leaves his wife and family to live in a new apartment with supermodel Valeria. On their first night together she goes out on an errand and her car is hit at the crossroads by Octavio. She survives her terrible injuries, but her leg has to be amputated (triggering memories of Luis Bunuel’s “Tristana,” in which Cather-ine Deneuve’s character suffered a similar fate).

Indeed, there’s something quite Bunuel-esque about this episode in which Valeria’s little dog disappears into a hole in the apartment floor and is occasionally heard scrabbling about below as the frantic Daniel uproots floor-boards to find him, disturbing the large rats for which this is home.

Part three, “El Chivo and Mura,” centers on the character of an old ex-revolutionary, already seen briefly in the first two episodes. El Chivo, or the Goat (Emilio Echevarria), is a street person who cares for a bunch of stray dogs and works as a gun for hire. Assigned to assassinate the business partner of his new client, the Goat happens to be on the spot when the fateful accident occurs and saves the badly wounded Cofi, with dire repercussions.

The old man is also trying, in a half-hearted way, to make contact with the daughter, Mura, he hasn’t seen in many years.

The mingling of these characters and their stories is most skillfully handled and, despite its length and complex-ity, the film is generally gripping, with the third episode the weakest.

The first story, despite its sordid trappings, is handled with a dynamic vigor that’s seductive, while the intriguing middle section is an almost surreal depiction of a supposedly ideal relationship that goes dramatically wrong.

Clearly, Gonzalez Inarritu is a talented filmmaker with an interesting career ahead of him.

Love's a Bitch

Mexico

Production

An AltaVista Films presentation of a Zeta Film/AltaVista Films production. (International sales: Lions Gate Films Intl., L.A.) Produced by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Executive producers, Martha Sosa Elizondo, Francisco Gonzalez Compean. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Screenplay, Guillermo Arriaga Jordan.

Crew

Camera (color), Rodrigo Prieto; editors, Gonzalez Inarritu, Luis Carballar, Fernando Perez Unda; music, Gustavo Santaolatta; production designer, Brigitte Broch; sound (Dolby digital), Martin Hernandez; assistant director, Carlos Hidalgo; casting, Manuel Teil. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week), May 14, 2000. Running time: 153 MIN.

With

Emilio Echevarria, Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo, Alvaro Guerrero, Vanessa Bauche, Jorge Salinas.
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