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Y Tu Mama Tambien

One of last year's most acclaimed foreign films, Amores Perros, was a frank and provocative film set in Mexico that told three different, though somewhat interlocking, stories. One of the early contenders for this year's most acclaimed foreign film, Y Tu Mama Tambien, is also a provocative movie set in Mexico, this one telling the story of three people on a journey.

Julio (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are two teenage boys who've just graduated from high school. They have dreams of college, but their more immediate pursuit is figuring out how to enjoy their summer while their girlfriends are away in Europe. They're the type of guys who enjoy smoking pot once in a while and who laugh uproariously when one of them farts in the car. They haven't had a lot of sex, but they both think they're highly accomplished. And they're bold enough to try to pick up an older married woman named Luisa at a wedding they attend, going so far as to invite her on a trip to the beach. When she (played by Maribel Verdu) finds out that her husband has been cheating on her, she decides to take up the boys on their offer, and the three set off for the ocean.

Their journey begins innocently enough. There's a lot of sex talk and teasing, but it's fairly tame, and the conversation also wanders to the boys' upbringing and Luisa's immigration from Spain. Tenoch is the son of a government official and, because of that, has led a life of privilege. Julio, on the other hand, has grown up in more modest surroundings. Luisa grew up poor but has married into a wealthy family, although that seems rather precarious at the moment. But these issues of class and wealth are brushed away in favor of flirting and joking and the increasing sexual tension.

The script, by director Alfonso Cuaron (The Little Princess) and his brother Carlos, is sharp and effective. Y Tu Mama Tambien rushes along with great energy and then pauses as we contemplate what we've just seen. The movie itself is one of the more sexually explicit movies  of the last couple years. The amazing hand-held camerawork, courtesy of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Sleepy Hollow) is constantly peering around doors as various couples couple. And the little details--a swimming pool filled with leaves, a roadblock manned by soldiers, and lines like "The truth is cool but unattainable"--add enormously.

The three leads are all superb. Verdu, who's best known in America for her role in Belle Epoque, is fantastic, alternating between a maternal figure who wants to mother the boys and a sexual temptress who wants to show them what sex is really like. Bernal (who appeared in Amores Perros) and Luna (Before Night Falls) shared the Best Actor prize at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, and deservedly so. Their portrait of teenagers who don't quite want to grow up is both hilarious and powerful. When they joke about sex, the audience both laughs along with them and understands the boys' insecurities. A scene of the two masturbating on diving boards is both audacious and completely fitting. And their friendship is compelling, which makes the film's last act that much more provocative.

It's hard to discuss Y Tu Mama Tambien as a whole without giving too much away, and that would be a disservice to you. So I encourage you to bookmark the review and come back to it after you've seen the movie. In other words, stop reading now.

. . . . and now that you've seen the film, what did you think of the ending? My friend Garth and I had a long debate about the movie's final sex scene. He saw it as a joyous culmination of their friendship and this
journey all three characters are on. I found it much more troubling than that. The drunken conversation that precedes that scene--the one in which the boys reveal more and more about how they've slept with each other's girlfriends and even their mothers--is a clue. While the two continually toast each other over their exploits, it's clear that the fallout the next day will be tremendous. As close as Tenoch and Julio are, Tenoch can't abide the fact that his lower-class friend has actually slept with his mother (the film's title is no accident). And so the final menage a trois is the last straw--the culmination of the friendship and its dissolution.

All of this brings us back to the issue of class, the great unspoken theme. The very effective narration raises this important idea, remarking that the boys can discuss everything except how they actually see each other. That contradiction bubbles out briefly in their argument over Tenoch's admission/lie that he slept with Julio's girlfriend, but then it sinks beneath the surface. In many ways, the film is an indictment of our current culture. When even the most explicit sexual issue can be discussed in mixed company, somehow discussing money and its distribution have become the new taboo. Think of the fisherman and his wife, who live an idyllic life, that is until the new economy will force him to sell his boat and become a janitor. It's no mistake that this couple are the most attractive characters in the film, and the ones with the bleakest future.

It is a rare film that can be both joyous and heartbreaking. When the narrator announces at the movie's conclusion, "They will never meet each other again," it's both an inevitable line and one that crushes the audience. Why won't they meet again? The answer to that is one the movie wants us to ponder.   

J. Robert Parks 3/30/2002

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