Criterion: Y tu mamá también
Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN, ALFONSO CUARÓN, 2001
I thoroughly enjoyed Y tu mamá también on the first viewing back in the early 2000s. However sexually charged, it was a breath of fresh air compared to the formulaic Hollywood versions of adolescence, like the raunchy 80s comedies like Porky’s, or the more recent American Pie, both of which would spawn multiple sequels in pure Hollywood fashion. This was in the same vein, at least it explored similar themes, but it couldn’t be further apart in style and execution.
Also back then, I barely knew of Alfonso Cuarón. Over 10 years later, he has made what I consider to be the highlight of the Harry Potter series, and made what two technically impressive films with breathtaking and groundbreaking cinematography — Children of Men and Gravity. The former is among my favorite American movies of the 00s, and the latter was a wild ride. It fell short of my expectations probably due to the deafening hype, but I was still pleased to see the auteur pick up his Oscar. He deserved it for the last three films.
One aspect that escaped me upon first viewing was how gorgeously framed and shot it was. This was the origin of Cuarón’s creative partnership with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (although they had been friends for years). Lubezki also has an Oscar, for the same movie as Cuarón, but arguably deserves four – one for Children of Men, and two for his work with Malick in Tree of Life and The New World.
Visually, Y tu mamá también is similar to Children of Men in that it is not afraid to show the seedier sides of the world. He shows the rural, impoverished Mexico country, which is contrasted with the upper class background of the bratty young main characters. Children of Men does the same, but with a dystopian society where ugliness is expected. In both films, they manage to make the ‘warts and all’ viewpoint aesthetically pleasing, while they both show the best and worst of humanity and how that does not correlate with being rich and poor.
Y tu mamá también is first and foremost a coming of age film. The characters are deviants that happen to not get intro trouble. Their worst exploits are self-exploration on swimming pools or purposely spilling beverage on a nice suit at a presidential wedding. They are naïve when it comes to life, women, and as we’ll discover later, most notably themselves.
While the two leads grow during their journey across rural Mexico, the audience finds the nature of the country, at least as the characters encounter it, is in a form of decline. The tangential voice-overs talk about the people they encounter, some living, some not, and how their lives turn for the worse. The main characters barely notice the plight, and why would they since they are on their own course of discovery, yet as they blossom, others shrivel. The same could be said for Mexico, which makes Y tu mamá también a deeper film than it first appears.
Just like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, this film is known for its sex, and I doubt that releasing both titles on the same day were coincidental. I recall discussing Y tu mamá también with a friend ages ago, and he called it basically a pornographic movie and that the sex was gratuitous. I could not disagree more. Sure, there are plenty of films, artistic or mainstream, where sex is used to fill seats.
In this film, the sex fits with the character development. Sex was a constant topic of the two lead character’s, which was realistic for two young kids at that age. All kids go through that phase where they explore themselves, although maybe not to quite the same extreme. The sex itself said more about the character’s inexperience and immaturity. Whether they were nervously and apprehensively standing there with a towel, or sitting in the backseat of the car, they were far from sexual champions. They were children that were following the lead of a dominant female. They were so stricken by the fact that she would consider them, that their fantasies could become reality, that their confidence and bravado faded in an instant. And they failed to perform adequately, something that Luisa frankly reminded them during a later pivotal scene.
The sex was part of their coming of age. Through Luisa, they got it out of their system and left the club of the Charalastras. When we last see them, they have barely aged physically, but mentally and emotionally, they are years older. They have come to terms with their sexuality, just like Mexico had (or has) to come to terms with its poverty and the class division.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
Then and Now: There are two documentaries reflecting on the movie. The first was roughly 10 minutes and was filmed shortly after the film was released. Another documentary was filmed recently and is over 40 minutes in length. Of course the second documentary gave a lot more information, and the most valuable parts were hearing Cuarón reflect on how he wanted to leave the Hollywood system and create something original. This was a decision that has paid off for him.
The Making of the Film: This is more like a traditional behind-the-scenes short documentary like the ones found as extras on mainstream discs. Compared to the other serious and analytical features, it is a lot more fun. It show that there were tough times, like dealing with angry drivers when they close a street, and fun times, like when they throw the producer in the pool as a way of baptizing him. You can tell that the work was work, but it was also fun, and I think that contributes to the quality of the final product on the screen.
You Owe Me One, Carlos Cuarón. This is a short film by Alfonso’s brother, Carlos, who wrote Y tu mamá también. This is similarly themed, with lots of sex and playfulness, only this time it is a family of three that all have their own illicit sexual experiences under the same roof in a span of 12-minutes. The short is a good companion to también because of the comedy and focus on sex, but it is by comparison a lot more shallow and more of a romp.
Criterion Rating: 9/10