Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother, Too) certifies the shallowness of Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón, whose A Little Princess (1995) suggested promise. (I haven’t seen Cuarón’s 1998 Great Expectations or his 2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.) It is the kind of film I like least: a coarse, manipulative entertainment that is contemptuous of its audience, and decked with features and mannerisms to attract culture vultures and hoodwink the gullible. A road picture (a genre of films I love), it won a truckload of foreign-language film prizes (including nearly all of the major ones in the U.S.), not to mention the best screenplay prize, for Cuarón and his brother Carlos, at Venice. At the Havana Film Festival, moreover, it won the prize of the international critics, whose citation reads as follows: “For the good melange of the comic and the tragic expressed in a very sophisticated style.” Different people see the same movie with different eyes.

As a summertime rite-of-passage film involving two high school boys, while their girlfriends are away in Europe, and their road companion, a not-that-much older woman related by marriage to one of them, it’s a feast for those whose hearts and eyes haven’t progressed beyond high school. There is even a scene where the boys, naked in the shower room of an exclusive club, flick towels at one another—for those who are nostalgic for this sort of thing, and for others who, for whatever reason, simply enjoy watching spirited naked boys. (Be forewarned: throughout, male nudity is stressed while female nudity is given short shrift.) The film thus functions mostly at the level of Porky’s (Bob Clark, 1982), with the boys’ leering at girls there replaced (I guess) by the filmmaker’s leering at boys here, and not a chance in paradise of the career of another Kim Cattrall being launched. One can only hope that Cuarón, in his latest film, at least lets Harry Potter keep his duds on.

But there are two even more egregious aspects to the film. One of these is the film’s attempt to seduce certain audience members into believing that they are watching a serious, intelligent film, not some silly adolescent romance. This attempt takes two forms. One refers to the narrative, whose road trip out of Mexico City exposes the boys to “the other Mexico”—the poor Mexico from which their pampered lives have protected them. (One of them is rich; the other, bourgeois.) But this is an empty tack, for the boys, Tenoch and Julio, themselves seem little affected by what we get to see (for example, in roadside stores and diners): instances of hardworking, sometimes impoverished humanity. Nor does the film in any fashion reflect on the boys’ nonresponsiveness to anyone but Luisa, the woman who, cheated on by her spouse, joins them on the road, as they presumably head in the direction of an exclusive beach called Boca del Cielo—“Heaven’s Mouth,” a nonexistent place, the boys’ ruse. Julio and Tenoch aim for sexual adventure; for them, Heaven’s Mouth exists between Luisa’s thighs. You get the picture; the souls whose paths the boys cross along the way are distractions for us. They’re not really what the film is about, but Cuarón, a liar and a cheat, nonetheless wants to take credit as though Mexico’s socioeconomic divide is what his film is really about.

Cuarón tries to augment this manipulation of his audience with another, equally false and reprehensible tack. Periodically, there is a burst of voiceover. (The narrator is Daniel Giménez Cacho.) At first, this narration provides background information about the boys and their families. Soon, however, it provides more potentially interesting information, about the economic and political state of things in Mexico. For instance, referring to the time of departure of the road journey, the narrator notes, “That day, three demonstrations took place across the city.” But all such comments turn out to be provocative though pointless observations—throwaway lines unaccompanied by any rigorous political or socioeconomic analysis. There is less to Cuarón’s film than meets the ear, and two of the eventual turns of plot, the boys’ passionately making out with Luisa and then, under the umbrella of her ravishing sensuality, with one another and the subsequent dissolution of their friendship, less over their homosexual encounter than over other matters (sexual jealousy; the difference in socioeconomic status between them), may or may not add something substantial to the mix. Cuarón is mostly playing us by making it appear that his film is about more than male adolescent high jinks.

Cuarón also plays us in a worse way. Luisa is dying of cancer. She knows this, but Cuarón doesn’t bother disclosing the fact until very near the end of the film. (Worse, the narrator slightly earlier teases us in the direction of the disclosure.) Ikiru (1952), Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, immediately lets us know that its protagonist, Kanji Watanabe, is dying of cancer; nor does Ingmar Bergman’s magnificent Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop, 1972) delay our awareness that Agnes is dying of cancer. Even Hollywood’s Dark Victory (Edmund Goulding, 1939) doesn’t so callously toy with us regarding Judith Traherne’s medical condition. It is soulless to reduce someone’s dying of cancer to a plot point, for goodness sake. Cuarón has no concept of human tragedy. He is indeed a man without a soul.

All that said, the final nighttime dance among the three lead characters in a roadside restaurant, which leads to their menage à trois in a motel bedroom, is among the most erotic passages in all of cinema, and Luisa (Ana López Mercado), gorgeously bronze and covered in silken sweat, is at last permitted to come into her libidinous own. How much more profound, though, this good moment would have been had we known that Luisa was dying.

The roles of the two boys are enacted by twentysomethings. Diego Luna, who plays Tenoch, cannot act; diminitive Gael García Bernal, who plays Julio, can. He is excellent here, and he is even more remarkable in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s earlier Amores perros (2000). (Bernal’s stirring speech denouncing the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the high point of the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony until Adrien Brody, winning as best actor, stole the show.) Luna and Bernal shared acting honors at the Valdivia International Film Festival and at Venice.

One more thing must be counted in the film’s favor: the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezski, like his work in A Walk in the Clouds (Alfonso Arau, 1995), is gorgeous throughout.


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