Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
I must admit, I did not initially have this movie on my watch list. However, after disappointing my boyfriend at a recent film festival by deciding that we would watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest instead of his pick, Y Tu Mamá También, he has been on a quest to get me to appreciate “new classic movies” (classic films that are more recent in release, instead of my usual favorites most of which predate 1970). So with that in mind I sat down recently to the watch a film which most people remember because of its graphic sex. However, while watching I quickly realized that this was going to be a film that was going to make me think (and not just about sex). For beneath the very frank depictions of sex and vulgar language is a film that is much deeper. One cannot assign a genre or label to Y Tu Mamá También, and the director’s explanation of this being a road movie or an adolescent coming of age comedy does not accurately describe the greater significance of this film.
The film begins with Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) having sex with their girlfriends before sending them off on a summer abroad. Without the girls around, the brofriends spend their summer days with parties, drugs and talking about their sexual fantasies. Though best friends, the boys come from different social classes. Tenoch is the privileged son of a government politician while his friend Julio comes from a lower-middle class background. However, on the surface the class differences do not seem to interrupt the bromance till later cheap-shots will be fired in the heat of an argument. While at a ritzy upper-class wedding the boys meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú) the wife of Tenoch’s cousin and ten years their senior. They immediately try to impress the woman with stories of an invented beach called Boca del Cielo (“Heaven’s Mouth”). At the wedding, Luisa coyly brushes off the boys’ advances. However, she’ll change her mind after receiving test results at a doctor’s appointment (results which are not revealed till later in the film) and a drunken phone confession from her philandering husband. With that, the trio sets off on their road trip to the beach. Amidst their conversations about sex, getting high and the boys explaining their Charolastra (astral cowboy) lifestyle, Mexico itself is on display outside the moving car. The boys’ friendship will be tested by the seductive Luisa entering their life and confessions of their indiscretions with each other’s girlfriends. Luisa too will have a transformation, growing with her new found independence and freedom.
Throughout the film, an omniscient narrator (voiced by Daniel Giménez Cacho) interrupts the soundtrack and action of the film. In the beginning, the narration is almost obtrusive with a one to two second silence from the film soundtrack and an almost reporter-like voice giving seemingly random details. Details about the characters background and about the world around them. At first it is hard to understand why the narrator is describing such unimportant things such as a horrible accident scene that has caused a road closure and the boys are stuck in traffic. But, it is this narration that moves the story along and provides its deeper significance. For this accident was caused by a laborer who crossed the street in the highly trafficked area rather than walk two-miles to the pedestrian walkway. Why does director Alfonso Cuarón stop the action of the film to have this external detail reported? This moment of narration (like others throughout the film) holds a mirror up to Mexico itself. For it is through these moments of truth, Cuarón comments on the political and social climate of Mexico during the end of the late 1990’s. Much like Hollywood director, Ernst Lubitsch during the first half of the twentieth century used comedy in film for his platform to comment on the social and political problems of the day, Cuarón uses his “road movie”, “coming of age movie” for the same purpose. Not only does the narration lead us through this commentary, but there is much that happens outside the windows of the car that helps us understand what influences the people of Mexico (the class system, the political climate, the differences between urban and rural Mexico, etc). Things with which these characters seem oblivious too. There are also obvious easter eggs presented to the audience to further their understanding of the characters and the journey their lives will take. For example, their names. Tenoch the son of a politician was given the name Tenoch Iturbide both the given name and surname are ones of national heritage and pride. Tenoch is derived from the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan which is present day Mexico City and Iturbide is from the Agustín de Iturbide who was for a short time emperor of Mexico. Julio’s surname of Zapata comes from Emiliano Zapata a leading figure in the Mexican revolution. And not to be forgotten Luisa’s name is of significance too. Her surname of Cortés is from the famous Spanish conquistador of Hernán Cortés who conquered the land of Mexico for Spain. Much as Luisa who too is from Spain will conquer the boys.
Cuarón also employs a sense of realism reminiscent of the French New Wave. The realism of the film never crosses into documentary, but is more like a docu-drama. The use of real people and locations opens the eyes of the viewer to the world that is happening around the boys. In one scene the boys must retrieve car keys from Julio’s sister who is a student activist. At the time of filming, Cuarón learned of an upcoming student protest on the streets of Mexico City. He used this real life opportunity as background for his players, changing the already planned scene to shoot on location. In another scene, Luisa and the boys are eating at a restaurant in a poor town, the camera moves from the main players to the action in the kitchen. Showing us the viewer the preparation of the meal. There are further influences of the French New Wave in this film, including the use of long takes and characters breaking the fourth wall.
Just below the surface of all of the joking and laughing, this film is dark with themes of death, poverty, and greed. Like I said, this film ended up being more of a “thinking movie” for me, causing me to reflect on what I know through my experiences in Mexico at that the time this film was set. Though some things are the same still, there were many ways that Cuarón captured a moment in time. That in crossing the border today, the experiences would be different. The view of the people and scenery outside the car, the narration, the slang the boys used to talk to each other, all convey that moment in time for those who could not be there to experience it. It is Cuarón who is our tour guide and has arranged this viewing experience for us, intentionally planning every step along the way. Using the freedom of the car to show us life outside its windows.