Modern Treasures: Y Tu Mama Tambien
Several movies over the past decade have brought Mexican cinema repeated international recognition. While popular films like Amores Perros and, most notably, Pan’s Labyrinth are without a doubt great, no film in the last decade has given me as much hope about the possibilities of a Mexican national cinema as Y Tu Mama Tambien (beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuaron).
On paper, it seems like your typical brainless Hollywood road trip movie. Two horny, immature teenagers (best friends Julio and Tenoch, played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) head to the beach, all the while competing against each other for the pleasure of bedding an older, married woman (Maribel Verdu, in a magnificent performance). While the two boys share plenty of immature moments, it isn’t a case of those behind the camera living out their fantasies vicariously through the characters. Each person in the film is clearly defined, and if you find yourself rolling your eyes at anything uttered or done by Julio and Tenoch throughout the film, you nevertheless recognize the moments as ringing true to being seventeen. They are not moments played for easy laughs, which is not to say they aren’t necessarily funny. Instead, they show us two characters discovering themselves, growing, and finding their lives forever changed by the time the credits roll. And, for once, it is not merely a cliché.
Another thing that sets the film apart is the way the film parallels the state of Mexico itself. While Tenoch and Julio’s weekend adventures might offer much in the form of instant gratification, it only thinly veils the unrest the hides beneath their friendship, the clashes caused by their differences in social status, and the uncertainty of their future. The initially almost-utopian beauty of daily life in rural Mexico, too, is not able to long hide the tragic future that awaits it, as revealed through a rare case of effective and poignant omniscient voice-over that provides context to the film and contrast to the initial banality in the lives of our two leads.
A surprise (almost out-of-nowhere) revelation at the end could have also felt like easy, lazy sentimentality, if not for the fact that upon further analysis we realize it had been hinted at throughout the entire movie. And the fact that as the credits start to roll you don’t feel cheated or fooled, but an appropriate uneasy feeling in your stomach.
Much like the lives of the characters in the film, watching this movie provides an endless sense of discovery. Something new to learn upon each repeated viewing. Thankfully, watching it again and again is the kind of pleasure that the audience can keep forever.