At the end of The Trial, Kafka’s Joseph K says to himself that he is dying “like a dog,” that is, disgracefully. “It was as if the shame would outlive him.” In Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee’s protagonist dedicates himself to “the service of dead dogs” and “the honor of corpses.” He transports to the dump the bodies of unwanted animals who have been put down, and discovers that the workmen often have to break the dogs’ now rigid limbs in order to fit them into the incinerator. He takes over the disposal job himself and wonders why:
For the sake of the dogs? But the dogs are dead; and what do dogs know of honour and dishonour anyway? For himself, then. For his idea of the world, a world in which men do not use shovels to beat corpses into a more convenient shape for processing.
Dogs and dishonor. There are all kinds of other, less fraught ways of thinking of dogs, but I mention these instances as a means of getting at the untranslatable title of the extraordinary recent Mexican film Amores Perros, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. The film, González Iñárritu’s first apart from his many short commercials and a television pilot, gathered prizes at festivals last year and opened in New York this spring. It was nominated for a Golden Globe award and for an Oscar for best foreign film, the first Mexican movie to be up for this accolade in twenty-six years.
It has an English title too—Love’s a Bitch—but it is significant that no one uses it, as far as I can tell, either here or in the United Kingdom. Literally the words mean “dog loves,” where “dog” is an adjective, as in “dog days.” But the suggestion is of disgraceful loves, loves that are a mess, loves that treat you the way you wouldn’t treat a dog. The phrasing also hints at a touch of celebration lurking in the mess, rather after the fashion of New Yorkers boasting, as they used to, about how awful the city was, so incalculably worse than any other city, the capital of insult and injury: this stuff (this place) is so disgraceful that its disgrace confers a form of distinction.
The characters in Amores Perros are in love with other creatures, human or canine, but they are mainly in love with their own troubles, their capacity for confusion and damage. We could also paraphrase the title as screwed-up loves, or loves that screw you up. A poor young man loves his brother’s wife, or at least he desires her and makes out with her and wants her to come away with him. Sibling rivalry, surely, a form of what used to be called triangular desire, desire directed by what someone else possesses. Yes, but that is just what the young man is busy denying, and he would say he can hate his brother without needing to love the wife. We would have…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.