A road trip across Mexico, oozing with eroticism and the joys and agonies of living, in what is Cuaron’s most liberating picture to date.
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
2001 | Mexico | Drama | 106 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
R21 (passed clean) for strong sexual content involving teens, drug use and language
Cast: Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
Plot: In Mexico, two teenage boys and an attractive older woman embark on a road trip and learn a thing or two about life, friendship, sex, and each other.
Awards: Won Marcello Mastroianni Award & Golden Osella for Best Screenplay (Venice). Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Original Screenplay
International Sales: Good Machine International
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 14 July 2015)
Many have regarded this as Alfonso Cuaron’s best film (to date), and it is easy to see why. Y Tu Mama Tambien is made with that rare fervour of enthusiasm and passion, so effective in its portrayal of carefree youths, that when it is juxtaposed with a more sobering reality – as Roger Ebert dubbed the ‘two Mexicos’, feelings of ambivalence and disconnect, all too familiar to us, become the mark of our human existence.
As Charles Taylor pointed out in his critical essay for The Criterion Collection – he compares Cuaron’s film to Henry Miller’s landmark 1934 novel “Tropic of Cancer”, that it is a tender ode to “the joy of living, even the joy to be found in the agony of living.”
The film, loosely structured as a road movie that also functions as a coming-of-age piece, follows two teenage boys Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), who are acquainted with an older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdu) during a wedding. They go on a car ride to find ‘Heaven’s Mouth’, a non-existent beach with breathtaking scenery. That’s all you should know.
Cuaron’s film solely relies on this minimal plotting, but through the brilliant use of narration (and revelation), Y Tu Mama Tambien transforms deeper into a genuinely emotional journey, with sharp social commentary.
“Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea.”
The performances and characterizations are top-notch. These are characters you can relate to. And although the picture remains controversial for its seeming candidness (or even nonchalance) in portraying sexuality, it is the casual sex, and to some extent, the eroticism that comes from it that becomes the heartbeat of the film.
In one of its final sequences, Cuaron bombards us with explicit sexual dialogue, leading up to a tantalizing yet crucial threesome sex scene. The controversial scene is important because it is liberating to see the characters (finally) coming into their own, with nothing fazing them, and their future uncertain yet optimistic.
Their collective experience of sexual pleasure embodies Mexico’s impossible dream of ridding itself from its various agonies – poverty, injustice and corruption.
With its unhinged style, shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki, Y Tu Mama Tambien is the work of a filmmaker who is truly free. The irony is that while art achieves liberation, Man continues to struggle towards emancipation.