Before hitching the Hogwarts Express to unleash the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron returned to his motherland to direct what will then be recognized as one of world cinemas’ finest. Not only does Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2001) sizzle and seduce on its emotional coming-of-age story, but it also serves as an allegory to the life-changing moments in both personal and national histories. An audacious and revealing road-trip, it takes viewers on an evocative (and erotic, if I may add) chronicle of desire, friendship and self-discovery that transcends with an overwhelming punch. It was wildly fun until it lasted, but the charolastras will never be the same again.
In a lay-by that provoked the turning point of Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch’s (Diego Luna) kinship, the film’s narrator describes a kind of pain the boys experienced as they witnessed and learned, respectively, of each own sexual exploits. It was also the burgeoning sensation one will feel in the closing minutes that would only make their excursion more poignant. Famous for its thematically sensual scenes, Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN gently unties the tragedy that will befall among its three central characters. The narrator, serving as the cinematic omniscient presence, reveals in a painful conclusion that Julio and Tenoch will decidedly not see each other anymore. Luisa (Maribel Verdú), their Spanish acquaintance and the apple of the boys’ eyes, stayed behind to spend her last, living days (unbeknownst to them). The sober finality greatly contrasted the explicit revelry depicted throughout the film. Julio and Tenoch were introduced as blithe teenagers of differing socioeconomic backgrounds who are bonded by their expansive indulgences. Alcohol, drugs and sex are staples in their pre-adulthood life but not to the point of self-destruction. However, it pried a nasty version of their selves and triggered the dissolution of their friendship.
(L-R) Gael Garcia Bernal as Julio, Maribel Verdú as Luisa, and Diego Luna as Tenoch
Much has been said on the film’s queer undertones but there’s no denying the captivating closeness of Julio and Tenoch. At the heart of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN is the genuine portrayal of real-life friends Bernal and Luna who naturally dive into the seemingly uncomplicated and untroubled lives of their characters. The rapturously candid scenes would not have the same effect if not for the young actors’ rapport; not to mention their potent chemistry with Verdú as they travel along rural Mexico. Cuaron struck two coming-of-age stories in one stone as the changing dynamic between Julio and Tenoch took place in a period where their country is undergoing a major political shift. It is a subtle testament to the unpretentious treatment of youth, in which the world is not only about and revolves around them. The narrator proffers deeper connection of the events, people and places they encountered; some insightful and sentimental, others foreboding and melancholic. Verdú fluidly carried the emotional weight that spiralled onto Luisa as she bravely accepted her doomed fate. As a woman who has yet to enjoy the fullness of her independence, Luisa’s abrupt existence is heart-breaking yet powerful enough to stir the status quo between Julio and Tenoch.
But Luisa did not willingly want it to happen, had she known the gutting aftermath. Julio and Tenoch, both juvenile and salacious, had little foresight on the consequences of their actions. The climatic tryst is a fitting culmination in their gratifying quest of exploring one’s sexuality. Does the film suggest they could have been more than friends? Or are they just stricken by drunkenness and the hot Mexican weather? I’m more convinced on the latter, though it is worth pondering the overlapping relations that they had which made them closer more than ever. Nonetheless, it awakened a sense of modesty that became the driving force on why they grew apart.
Reaching Heaven’s Mouth
Viewers will be surprised to find out the context behind the literal translation of the film title (‘and your mother too’). But beforehand, they will be enamoured by the excellent performances of Bernal, Luna and Verdú; and the exotic beauty and culture of Mexico lensed by Cuaron’s frequent collaborator (and three-peat Academy Award winner) Emmanuel Lubezki. A particular scene stands out because of how Lubezki captured Verdú’s allure and the scorching attraction among the leads. Written by the Cuaron brothers, the film was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay but lost to another foreign entry which I have yet to see (Talk to Her).
Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN is a delectable slice of world cinema that presents its universal message in the most intimate language. It does not manifest romance nor satiate the lust; instead the film unravels the yearning for human connection. How people come and go into our lives is one of the saddest mysteries. But the more peculiar is why we let them be.
Photos were grabbed on respective film sites.