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Y Tu Mamá También

January 9, 2014

Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Actors: Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Maribel Verdú

Synopsis: Teenagers, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), take Tenoch’s cousin’s wife, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), on a road trip across Mexico to the site of a fictional beach, “Heaven’s Mouth”….

Review: My mini-Alfonso Cuarón retrospective continues apace with this, perhaps his most definitive piece of work. I say that because it was made in his native Mexico, it’s a formally audacious and beautiful film, it highlights his interest in sensuous, tactile stories, and some might even call it a sexy movie. Although that said, this ‘sexy’ movie tag is something of a red herring, perhaps a marketing tool designed to entice us gringos into a seemingly stereotypical story of those “tempestuous” latinos, or from a superficial reading of the narrative that takes the world view of its gauche, lusty teen protagonists too literally.

The film’s main formal calling-card is an authorial voiceover which undercuts the action of the hedonistic road trip with an underlying social commentary on the Mexican landscape and its people. Irrespective of one’s reading of the dramatic success of this flourish,  it’s unquestionably an audacious and beautifully accomplished conceit. There’s something purely cinematic about it – the way Cuarón almost purposely breaks the tyranny of the aural and visual mania of the boys’ journey, by literally tuning down their pompous, diegetic voices and changing the panorama to scenes they either look through or choose to avoid, to provide a more telling critique of their fecklessness, relative privilege and sense of entitlement. Of course, it’s entirely legitimate to say that the voiceover breaks the golden rule of demonstrating to the audience the underlying polemic, but still, it feels a moving, accomplished and necessarily ironic counterpoint to the narrative trajectory. (Incidentally, was it just me, or is the scene where the three characters get drunk and lasciviously dance together, less a wry celebration of the moment where Julio, Tenoch and Luisa all begin to cohere as ‘one’, but more a savage critique of the way they intrude so brashly on the indigenous people’s quietude that evening?)

If Cuarón is so interested in problematising his teenage characters’ world view, you could argue he spends a lot of time indulging and dramatising their personalities and predictable teenage machismo. It feels at times that Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal’s performances have a touch of the slightly nauseous “actors’ workshop” about them; as if they’re trying too hard to project the boys’ natural hyperactive energy. That aside, it’s hard not to be drawn into the heartfelt, leftist feel of the piece, plus its overall accumulating sense of poignancy as the road trip reaches its end at the ‘Heaven’s Mouth’ beach. There’s a logic and profound truism in the sentiment that these affluent boys will soon be back off to their adult lives in Mexico City, and that the trip will be subsumed into one of those clichéd ‘rites of passage’ anecdotes that men colonise in their middle-aged years (although Cuarón cleverly hints that Tenoch and Julio themselves lose touch soon after the trip – acknowledgement of the existing class tension between them). (January 2014)

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