Saturday, 15 December 2007

Y tu mamá también (Cuarón, 2001)

Exciting, provocative and surprisingly daring, Y tu mamá también is a film that just might be deserving of all the praise that’s been heaped upon it. Cuarón, after helming what is possibly the single most agonising cinematic experience of my entire life, leaps right into my good books with this Mexican raunchfest of a picture. The film breathes some life into the well-worn ‘road movie’ cliché – not because it deviates from the stereotype (the characters predictably learn a life lesson or two on their metaphorical journey), but because it’s brisk and invigorating enough to maintain our attention at all times.

Starting with its brash opening, the film’s treatment of sex is refreshingly frank. Cuarón really doesn’t abstain from showing us carnal details, although the sex here isn’t gratuitous by any means. It’s fundamental to the story and, at the very least, provides us with valuable insights into the characters lives. If it wasn’t for these visual illustrations, we’d never be aware of the hypocrisy behind the audacious proclamations of Tenoch and Julio – the movie’s two youthful heroes who feel little shame in bragging about their sex lives, but helplessly turn to putty in the hands of an older woman resulting in their amusingly premature climaxes. Sex then, is used to expose the basic inexperience of the pair, often leading to delightfully humorous effects.

There are, perhaps surprisingly, wider concerns here. Fucking is just one part of the duo’s carefree masculine playground which incorporates the usual material gratifications (drugs, alcohol, cars). Underpinning this happy-go-lucky lifestyle however, is a competitive streak between the two that rears its head more than once. In due course, we realise that the film is studying male relationships, and quietly examining the nature of the male ego – saving its boldest and most thought-provoking remark for the movie’s final act.

A wryly comic voiceover offers the audience further insights, although these are not always successful. When commenting on the characters, the film is perfectly within its zone and is able to make shrewd observations. However, the narration occasionally overreaches – and nothing irks me more than a film with visibly clear illusions of grandeur. Here, we find a feeble attempt to integrate a review of Mexico’s political situation into its narrative, which frankly isn’t very interesting. The film seems far more comfortable dealing with issues that are more directly relevant to its characters’ lives, for example the influence of class boundaries on Tenoch and Julio’s relationship. Y tu mamá también is socially conscious more than it is politically astute.

Mortality is another lingering idea that the film deals with. A fairly cheap ‘surprise’ revelation is saved until the film’s end, but it succeeds in spite of its contrivance, revealing certain events to be more poignant than they have any right to be. In essence then, this is more than just a raucous sex comedy. Its focus expands beyond mere erotic pleasures, and it succeeds in portraying an exciting chapter in life whilst remaining fully aware of its transience. For that, it deserves to be commended.

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