Following two English-language films — Great Expectations and A Little Princess — director Alfonso Cuaron returned to Mexico to make this brilliant, challenging and unorthodox film. That’s obviously in part because Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother, Too) is the sort of movie that wouldn’t and couldn’t be made in Hollywood. It’s too bold and too openly and honestly sexual. As it is, the movie is being released in this country without the blessing of the MPAA and a rating. But the film also very clearly requires its Mexican setting in order to work as it does. Though never stressed, the film is almost as much political as it is sexual, taking place in a land where dire poverty rests side-by-side with more-than-comfortable wealth, where roadblocks and quixotic car searches are an expected “annoyance,” where a much more visible class structure than we have in America controls much of what happens. This may only be the background against which Y Tu Mama Tambien is set, but it’s a background that’s essential to the film. Several critics have pointed out that the film is essentially a variant on the Hollywood teenage flick and the “road” movie — and that’s not entirely wrong, but that analysis hardly does the movie justice. This film goes places those formulaic pieces never do, even while working in a format that is not dissimilar. (In many ways, it can also be seen as a more sexually frank take on Truffaut’s Jules and Jim.) Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are two close friends whose girlfriends are away for the summer on a trip to Italy. Their lives are marvelously unstructured. They spend their time drinking, doping, hoping to “get lucky” (it rarely happens) and kvetching about what they want to do with their lives versus what their parents want them to do. All this changes when they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu), Tenoch’s distant cousin by marriage, at a wedding. Engaging in the adolescent fantasy of the two of them running off with this lovely woman, they propose to take her to see a legendary (possibly non-existent) beach. She laughs the idea off until she finds that her husband has been cheating on her, whereupon she agrees to go with them. Since they never expected her to accept, the boys have to pull the trip together at the last moment. At this point, Y Tu Mama Tambien transforms itself into not only a journey to find this mythical beach, but a journey into the selves of the three characters — and into the heart of Mexico. Original? As an idea, not in the least. As developed, however, it’s better than original: It’s truthful. Are these characters going to learn truths about each other? Is the sexual tension between them going to erupt into something? Will this trip leave the three of them completely different than they were at the beginning? Of course, all these things will happen, but they don’t happen in the ways Hollywood has taught us to expect. Instead, they happen much more in the way of real life. The resulting discoveries aren’t neatly packaged and they don’t shy away from things Hollywood either pretends don’t exist in the hopes they’ll just go away, or else touches so tentatively that if you blink you’ll miss it. (Compare the intense homoerotic subtext in this film with the supposed homoerotic text of Murder by Numbers.) While Y Tu Mama Tambien is utterly sexual in terms of nudity and content and dialogue (it’s the most blatantly erotic film in ages), it primarily uses this sexuality as an exploration of the growth of the characters and the nature of bonding — and the ultimate sadness that can come with self-realization. It’s a quietly shattering film that left me in mind of Gertrude Stein’s matter-of-factly disheartening sentence, “Little by little we never met again” –while at the same time being life-affirming in its wholehearted embracing of the characters and their humanity. It’s a movie that’s apt to offend some and make others uncomfortable. It’s also a movie that needs to be seen.
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