Should I Watch..? 'Y Tu Mamá También'
What's the big deal?
Y Tu Mamá También is a Mexican coming-of-age drama film released in 2001 and was directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón. The film depicts two friends who embark on a roadtrip through Mexico who find themselves both falling for the same woman. The movie stars Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal and Maribel Verdú. The film caused a storm of controversy upon its release due to its graphic scenes of sex and drug use featuring teenagers although Alfonso and his brother Carlos (who also co-wrote the screenplay) sued the Mexican authorities over the film's 18 rating. Released to rave reviews from critics, the film was given an international release and went on to earn more than $33 million worldwide despite being entirely in Spanish. It would also achieve nominations for Golden Globes, Academy Awards and BAFTAs.
What's it about?
The film is narrated by an unseen narrator who divulges information about the characters, places and background characters who pop up throughout the film. Friends Julio and Tenoch have grown up together despite Julio's middle-class upbringing and Tenoch's political affiliations through his father's high-ranking position. As their girlfriends depart for a holiday in Italy, the boys decide to take advantage of this and decide to live as care-free batchelors for a while.
At a social gathering, they encounter the beautiful Luisa who is married to Tenoch's cousin Jano. Seizing the opportunity, they invite her to accompany them to a mystical beach (one that they have invented). Luisa declines the invite but after receiving a voice mail from her husband, they then accepts and demands to be taken to this supposed paradise. Unsure of exactly where they are going, Julio and Tenoch set off with Luisa on a voyage of self discovery and self destruction.
Trailer (contains adult content)
Gael García Bernal
Silvia Allende de Iturbide
Juan Carlos Remolina
Alejandro "Jano" Montes de Oca
Daniel Giménez Cacho
Alfonso & Carlos Cuarón
Release Date (UK)
12th April, 2002
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Screenplay
What's to like?
On a purely visual level, Y Tu Mamá También is a colourful, dreamy and evocative trip through the stark beauty of the Mexican landscape. You can feel the heat of the sun radiate from the movie and despite the language, you become part of this misguided group of people all looking for different things. The banter between the three of them feels natural and organic and it lends the film a strong sense of realism as well as tragedy during the very last scene. The movie became the launchpad for the careers of Bernal and Luna (who at that point was mostly known as a soap opera actor) but it also brought director Cuarón to a wider international audience, which is no surprise given the film's natural beauty and warmth.
The narrative, such as it is, is peppered with references to Mexico's political past which is something I am not too familiar with. However, the themes of teenage lust and loyalty are universally understood and the film has a strong sense of the power of both. But the film's emotional climax is what really makes it stand out - not only does it answer any questions about the motives of certain characters but also delivers an absolute thunderbolt of a shock, primarily because you as a viewer have fallen for these characters as well. We've travelled with them and heard their boastful stories of sexual conquest and loves lost so we feel like we know them. I can't think of many films that made me care about these characters as much as this.
- The phrase "Y tu mamá también" literally means "And your mother too" which is not offensive by itself. However, in Mexican Spanish, if the phrase comes after an insult or is used as a retort, it becomes one of the most offensive sayings to be heard.
- Cuarón deliberately chose to make the film without using many of the techniques used in Hollywood, deciding to shoot the film almost as a documentary. There is no background music heard other than on radios and TVs and 90% of the film's lighting was natural.
- The film's origins came to Cuarón before his time at film school, a low budget road movie in Spanish about a trip to the beach. After working in the US on films like Great Expectations, Cuarón sought to return to Mexico and developed his idea further.
What's not to like?
I have no issues with subtitles but those of you who dislike them will be put off by this movie - the film's unseen narrator also complicates things as you aren't sure why he's talking, given how his comments and asides often don't appear to bear any relation to the film's narrative. For example, as they slowly drive past a roadside shrine, the narrator perks up and starts delivering statistics about the number of people killed on that stretch of road over the years and who they were. I wasn't a fan of the narration which felt distracting and kinda pointless. Maybe I need to brush up on my Mexican history next time.
While it undoubtedly feels like a director's pet project, I feel that there are certain similarities with Alfonso Cuarón's Oscar-hungry 2018 film Roma. Both are firmly based within Mexican history and politics, both have a cold and impartial observer acting as the cameraman and both tell the stories of ordinary individuals in a semi-improvised way, both in the foreground and background. You could possibly accuse Cuarón of repeating the same stylistic tricks only in black-and-white to make it feel more art-house but regardless, it is effective film-making nonetheless.
Should I watch it?
Y Tu Mamá También is an intoxicating blend of sex, scenery and subtext led by solid performances from the three leads. It does for Mexico what Lost In Translation did for Tokyo, bringing a familiar tale into new and bewildering surroundings that you can't help but get lost in. Despite obviously being made with a Mexican audience in mind, you'd be wise to track it down and give it a go. And then read up on Mexico's turbulent political past to get the film's core message.
Great For: Mexican audiences, teenage boys, pause buttons
Not So Great For: subtitle snobs, the easily bored, action fans
What else should I watch?
Lost In Translation is actually quite a good analogy, a film that features a simple story told amid the colourful chaos of downtown Tokyo. But like Y Tu Mamá También, the film seems to divide audiences - some of whom agree with the critics while others wonder what the film's point is. Bill Murray is wonderfully funny and deadpan while Scarlett Johansson smoulders on screen but the film is more of a rom-com but is dreadfully slow in places. I loved the film but my wife disagreed, calling it boring.
One other thing about the film that raised my eyebrow was the lack of recognition received by Verdú compared to her male costars and the director. Verdú has remained a presence in Spanish-speaking cinema including an appearance in Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth but Bernal and Luna have both enjoyed success in Hollywood while Cuarón is one of the most respected directors and producers working today. Luna has joined the ever-expanding Star Wars universe thanks to his role in Rogue One and Bernal has popped in films as diverse as the animated family film Coco, forgettable rom-com Letters To Juliet and epic drama Babel as well as the lead role in the comedy-drama TV series Mozart In The Jungle.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox