Friday, March 26, 2010

Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también (2001)

Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también (2001) is a love letter to Mexico in a distinctive style. Young Tenoch (Diego Luna) is fucking his girlfriend, Ana (Ana López Mercado), on the eve of her trip to Europe with her girlfriend, Ceci (María Aura), whose boyfriend is Julio (Gael García Bernal), Tenoch's best friend. The two are spending a blissful evening together, and for Ceci and Julio, they have to wait until the morning of Ceci's departure to embrace (under the guise of Julio helping Ceci look for her passport while her parents bicker about her missing the flight). When Tenoch and Julio meet at the airport, they are both sad to see their girlfriends go yet are both kind of happy to be able to spend some time together. While Tenoch and Julio have a good time getting high, swimming, and goofing around, a whole cast of characters are introduced from Mexico's president to a construction worker whose corpse is blocking traffic. The most important character is a Spaniard, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the wife of Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina), Tenoch's cousin, a writer of literature. Tenoch and Julio think that Luisa is incredibly beautiful (they are quite correct), so they chat her up at a wedding and ask her if she wants to accompany them to a beach called "Heaven's Mouth" (Tenoch and Julio don't even know if the beach exists). Luisa receives some bad news one day, and the following morning, she calls Tenoch and asks if her invitation is still open to go to the beach. Tenoch says yes, and he and Julio scramble around Mexico City, learning the location of the beach and gathering supplies before picking up Luisa. After Tenoch and Ana finish fucking and are tussling around playfully, before the audio drops out and a narrator in a quiet, unassuming style begins talking, the sounds of sirens are heard out of the window of Ana's bedroom. The construction worker whose corpse was blocking traffic had a specific reason for crossing the freeway that day, and the narrator tells why. This narrator also tells the audience why Tenoch is named Tenoch; who Tenoch's father is and what he does in the country; and who is Tenoch's mother and what she does every day. Julio's mother is never seen within Y tu mamá también, but the narrator tells the viewer who she is and what she does for a living. Julio's sister, nicknamed the "Beret" by Julio and Tenoch, is seen by the viewer but she doesn't speak. The narrator tells the viewer what she does and what her future holds. Some of the other folks on Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa's journey have stories as well, and sometimes the narrator will talk about their future. Luisa meets a ninety-five-year-old-woman in a town in front of a table of trinkets, photos, and flowers; and over the phone, Luisa tells Jano that amazingly this woman's memory has full recall and can remember all events since she was five. The old woman gives a memento to Luisa, and this memento has a specific past with an endearing story. Outside of the window of the vehicle on their journey to the beach, Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa see the country outside of Mexico City. The town where Tenoch's maid grew up is spied by Tenoch, and the narrator tells her story while Tenoch silently watches the town go by. He doesn't tell Julio or Luisa of the town. On the road, there are other people in a funeral procession, folks blocking traffic to solicit donations for the queen, and people on the side of the road stopped by the military or the local police. Luisa tells Julio and Tenoch one evening over tequila and beer and dancing that Mexico is a beautiful country.It is. However, Y tu mamá también is also a story about Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa. While the narrator tells the stories of people whose stories often go untold, the biggest mystery lies behind the Spaniard, Luisa. She is attracted to the two attractive young men: they are both so full of life and wrapped up in their own selves, almost blissfully ignorant of what goes on around them. Luisa knows also that Julio and Tenoch really want the opportunity to sleep with her and she's okay with that. Luisa has let go a lot a more than she lets on as to her life back in Mexico City, so what she experiences on this journey, she is open to all of it. Perhaps inadvertently, while Julio and Tenoch are looking for an opportunity to be physically intimate with Luisa, Luisa teaches the two about intimacy in all its forms. Cuarón saves his revelations towards those characters for the final minutes of his film. All three of the leading actors, Luna, Bernal, and especially Verdú as Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa, respectively, are pitch perfect: their performances are so open and vulnerable. Cuarón devotes his camera to them. His style for Y tu mamá también has now in 2010 become the dominant style in cinema: organic, hand-held, natural light, little traditional flare (like dramatic music). It is easy to forget how powerful this visual style is now, and Cuarón shows how powerful it is. Cuarón doesn't hide, with an overly-contrived artificial style, his themes. Cleverly, Cuarón plays with only his metaphoric focus: what's in the foreground and the background often will shift focus. That is to say, is Y tu mamá también his love letter to Mexico told by a narrator about the myriad different people who populate it; is it about three characters who grow together through a journey; or is it a seamless film, a tale told only in a whole? Regardless, Cuarón with Y tu mamá también made one of the best films of last decade. (Even more impressive, he made two of the best films of the decade in my opinion. Children of Men (2006) is another masterpiece.) A film which truly transcends its unassuming style.


The Film Connoisseur said...

This was the first Cuaron film I ever saw, and I havent been dissapointed with anything he has done yet.

LIke you, I think its the performances and situations of this film that make it great. The situations just seem so believable and genuine, but at the same time poetic. Love this one!

Emily said...

Love this film. Love the narration, love the lead performances, love the themes and what's in between.

Now I kind of want to watch it again!