These films present views of Mexican life at the beginning and end of the 20th century. Both are set during explosive moments, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and the Zapatista Revolution that began in the 1990s. But instead of focusing on these political upheavals, these films examine how an individual’s actions are influenced by social expectations. Specifically, they present how personal choices are impacted by gender roles, religion, class, and a sense of family loyalty.
Their titles declare the intense emotions that drive the stories. Como Agua Para Chocolate translates as “Like Water for Hot Chocolate.” This reference, to the practice of using boiling water to melt chocolate bars for the drink, also describes anger, passion, and/or sexual excitement. Amores Perros means “love’s a bitch,” which references the suffering individuals experience as they pursue their desires.
Amores Perros Trailer
Each film begins with its protagonists in the midst of a traumatic event. Since these traumas are of a personal nature, and were not caused directly by the social instability of their times, the film focus on how their actions impact the rest of the characters. Tita’s sorrowful birth in Como Agua Para Chocolate portends her mother’s multiple rejections of her and sets up her prescribed role as the family’s primary caretaker. Amores Perros’ opening scene of a bloody car chase and collision is another example of Octavio’s foolhardy and destructive behavior, which is also the catalyst for Valeria, Daniel, and El Chivo’s transformations.
As reflected in their titles, relationships are a central theme to the films, whether they are familial, romantic, or between a dog and its owner. They are the stage where conflicts between individual desires and societal values occur. Marriages, deaths, and births are prominent in each film. These major milestones in religious and secular life are also the battle sites where loyalties are expressed and betrayals are committed.
Como Agua Para Chocolate - "Young Love" Clip
The de la Garza family is the focus of Como Agua Para Chocolate and the disastrous event in this film is not as spectacularly violent as the car accident in Amores Perros. Instead it is the thwarted love between Pedro and Tita that becomes a slow burn that literally combusts in its final scene. Pedro’s marriage to Rosura fosters turmoil and resentment in the household and Tita’s attempts to stay within the limits of her caretaking role cause her severe distress. In comparison, Amores Perros sets a wider stage for its dramas by occurring in a community. The car crash is a motif for the juncture at which the character’s lives intersect and unravel. Their protagonists are Mexico City residents from different socio-economic backgrounds with anxieties around their intimate relationships and uncertain futures. But in spite of these differences, both films' characters were deeply impacted by social expectations.
Como Agua Para Chocolate presents how conservative views of women can be strictly enforced by women themselves and can result in mental illness. It looks at how different generations of women in the de la Garza family respond to the expectations to uphold family tradition and to lead religiously moral lives. Mama Elena demands that Tita do as she did and sacrifice love for loyalty to the family and out of respect for the sanctity of marriage. Tita’s mental health is imperiled when she nurses her nephew Roberto because the boundaries between her and sister’s family dissolve. Roberto’s death causes her to undergo a major depressive episode that necessitates time away from the hacienda to mourn and rebuild a healthier sense of self and personal boundaries. She vows after this experience to eliminate forced spinsterhood so her descendants can experience their love openly and have it honored in their community.
Como Agua Para Chocolate - "The Flare of the Match" Clip
Catholicism is contrasted with Indigenous beliefs to present another view on the role of duty and passion in one’s life. Doctor Brown shares with Tita his Kickapoo grandmother’s perspective: “We’re all born with a box of matches inside. We can’t light them by ourselves. We need oxygen and the help of a candle…The candle can be anything…that pulls the trigger and sets off the matches. Every person has to discover what will pull his trigger to enable him to live.” Tita’s adoption of these beliefs may reflect her desire to escape the restrictions she faced as a Catholic woman.
After Rosura’s death, the scandal of residing together is eliminated but an existence without him is impossible for Tita. The fire that consumes their bodies can be read as a motif for their ardor and as the Catholic punishment for their sinful behaviors: anger, envy, lust, infidelity, incest, dishonoring parents, and suicide. In Amores Perros Octavio and Susana commit the same type of incest (via relations by marriage) but they do not reunite at the film’s end. Ultimately, Susana betrays Octavio to remain loyal to her husband. While Octavio continues to hope for a shared future together, Susana feels disgusted and guilty about their involvement.
Daniel’s wealth, in Amores Perros, is a major contribution to the development of his relationship with Valeria. As a successful man, he can afford to set-up his mistress and is in a better position to remain committed to her after her accident. Their challenge is to grapple with the loss of their initial hopes for their relationship and detach from their identities as a fashion model and the lover of a beautiful, glamorous woman. This is communicated through their gazes at Valeria’s “Enchant” perfume ad. Originally they viewed the ad with pride and as Valeria’s condition worsens they seek it out for reassurance, but it gradually comes to mock their situation. After her amputation, they see that the ad has been removed and it symbolizes the definitive end of this chapter of her life and the beginning of a more profound existence for both of them (Shaw 63).
El Chivo’s saying that, “each dog becomes its master and vice versa” is best expressed in his story. As film scholar Debra Shaw observes, “Cofi, the dog who kills dogs, finds his natural owner in the man who kills men…El Chivo’s horror when Cofi kills all of his dogs leads to his redemption” (58). As a former revolutionary, El Chivo challenged conventional values through political means but he has become a nihilist.
Amores Perros - "I Love You, My Little Girl" Clip
However, despite his earlier, radical ideas about society and years of living as an outlaw, he is not beyond the need for deep and lasting bonds. His extreme experiences actually create a poignant yearning for what he had rejected. He realizes his folly in believing that to be the best father, he had to “put the world right and share it with [Maru].” No longer wishing to live on the margins, his transformation is represented visually in the new appearance he gives himself. His new haircut, shave, suit, and glasses make him look like the middle-class professor he once was and signals the new direction he is willing to take in life to get closer to his daughter.
Como Agua Para Chocolate and Amores Perros provide insights on the nature of love and freedom. Its universal messages on humanitarianism are a major contribution to each film’s success as two of Mexico’s most lucrative and globally acclaimed films. The way protagonists resolved personal problems complicated by their identities, beliefs, and access to resources, could inspire audiences undertake the same process for themselves.
Amores Perros. Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Perf. Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo. DVD. Lions Gate, 2000.
Como agua para chocolate. Dir. Alfonso Arau. Perf. Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torné. DVD. Walt Disney Video, 2000.
Shaw, Deborah. Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.