on October 27, 2002
Adult-themed movies are rarely made these days in America, the country which, ironically, is the porn capital of the world. The MPAA's rating system is confusing and often contradictory. No studio wants the dreaded `NC-17' rating because, among other reasons, many newspapers and TV stations won't carry ads for movies so rated. To me, it's a sad, hypocritical situation. Fortunately, other countries do make movies for adults. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is from Mexico, and, while its graphic depiction of sexual situations may seem startling to American audiences, it is far more honest, compelling and intelligent than its timid, childish American counterparts. ["American Pie" is a perfect example.]
Two teenagers, Julio and Tenoch [Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna] are looking forward to the pleasures of summer. They've just graduated from high school, and their girlfriends are going off to Italy for an extended stay. After biding the girls a fond farewell, the boys set out to have as much fun as they can. At a fancy party, they meet Luisa [Maribel Verdu], the wife of Tenoch's cousin. The pair is smitten by the older woman. Impulsively, they invited her to take a road trip with them to a beach they know called Heaven's Mouth. She politely refuses. Later, when she catches her husband being unfaithful, she announces that she is ready to see the beach. [Her real reason for going is not revealed until the film's final scene.] The problem is that the guys made the beach up. Despite this technical problem, the trio sets out for the long drive to the ocean. At the end of the journey, they find a wonderful surprise. Along the way, Luisa teaches both young men how to treat a woman. They also learn other, more serious lessons about life.
On the surface, this is a comedic `road trip' movie, one of the best ever made. Beneath the surface, there lies a poignant, meaningful coming of age tale.
This lively, well acted and beautifully photographed film is highly recommended for adults but not for children, for whom it was never intended.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
on May 21, 2003
Y Tu Mama Tambien is a road movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Great Expectations). Set in Mexico we are introduced to two 17 year old boys having sex with their girlfriends. The girlfriends are about to leave for a trip to Italy so they are looking to get just a little bit more fun in before the trip. They leave, and Tenoch and Julio are left to find their own entertainments. They are part of Mexico�s upper middle class and while at a party (thrown by one of their parents), they meet an older woman (in her late twenties). Not expecting her to accept, they invite Louisa to a fictitious beach called �Heaven�s Mouth�. After learning of her husband�s infidelity, Louisa takes the trip. Tenoch and Julio pretend they know where they are going and head towards a beach they hope will really be there when they get there.
This is a very sexual film, from the opening scenes to the denoument. There is a lot of discussion about sex, a fair amount of sex scenes (graphic and tender at the same time), and this just feels honest. We are not given nudity for the sake of nudity because in this film it feels essential to the ability to tell the story. The camera shows, but doesn�t linger.
The road trip and the development of the characters are extremely well done and the film rises well above the concept of the source material. We see Tenoch and Julio begin to grow up and grow into the men they will likely become. They begin the movie very immature and only looking for sex, drugs, and hanging with their friends. This movie shows the first steps beyond their childhood. Y Tu Mama Tambien could have easily become a Mexican version of American Pie or Road Trip, but this is much, much better. Highly recommended with a warning of a lot of sex and nudity.
The subtitles aside, it's obvious from the very first scene of Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN that it's not a U.S. production. So, take that, MPAA!
Two Mexican teenaged pals, Julio and Tenoch, have just said goodbye to their respective girlfriends, who are leaving on a vacation to Italy. Now, awash with raging hormones as boys of that age are, they spend their time obsessing about...well, you know...and doing everything possible to keep their reproductive organs occupied. Soon, they meet Luisa, a ten years-older woman married to a distant cousin of one of our heroes. Apparently devastated by her husband's ongoing infidelities, Luisa impulsively agrees to accompany Julio and Tenoch on a drive across country to a mythical beach called Heaven's Mouth. Luisa genuinely wants to see the seashore. We all know what the boys want.
I'd better tell you now that, while Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN is exuberantly erotic, it's not smutty. Or, at least, it shouldn't be in the eye of the beholder unless it's been forgotten what life involves.
The film is, of course, a coming of age story. Luisa's unabashed and uninhibited sexuality puts a predictable strain on the boys' friendship as she tries, at times with great exasperation, to get them to set aside their adolescent callowness (and grow up, for Chrissakes!). But, while the movie is sometimes a comedy and very much a teenaged boy's fevered fantasy, it's more than that. Julio's family is of middle-class affluence, and Tenoch's is simply just rich. In their drive across Mexico, the boys barely notice the poverty and police presence so much a part of the country because their minds are elsewhere. But, the audience sees it, and is reminded of the economic gulf separating societal elements by the occasional voiceover of an unseen narrator. One particularly poignant incident involves the travelers paying a monetary tribute to a rural "queen" in order to pass a roadblock, a garland of flowers stretched across the pavement by poor villagers.
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN doesn't rate the appellation of "great". The theme has been presented too many times before. But the humanity of it is intensely engaging. The boys, played by Gael Bernal and Diego Luna, are admittedly immature in all the ways that make even girls of the same age roll their eyes in disbelief. But they carry it off with such zest that it's impossible not to like them. And I can testify as a former adolescent boy that Maribel Verdu as Luisa could rightly be the centerfold of the most feverish daydream. However, her role goes much deeper. As the plot unfolds, the audience realizes that the ostensible reason for her leaving her husband isn't what's driving her. When we learn what the real cause is, we are left profoundly sad at the immense tragedy of it.
See this terrific movie, especially if you're the parent of a teen boy and you've forgotten what demons drive a young male of that age. This could be the best foreign film of 2002.
on July 26, 2002
After consecutively watching two movies from Mexico (Amores Perros and Dona Herlinda & Her Son), I eagerly awaited for Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien. I was not disappointed. The Mexican film industry has definitely arrived. This is one gem of a film that deserves all the critical acclaim it has been receiving in film festivals around the world.
You can classify this movie as you wish - road movie, coming-of-age tale, may-december interludes, study of a woman in mid-life crisis, sex-starved youth meets lonely woman longing for love and affection - but no matter what the tag is, it remains a masterpiece of modern cinema.
The three main leads (Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and the amazing Maribel Verdu) all deliver knockout performances that led me to a rollercoaster of emotions culminating in two realizations: 1) that life is too short to waste and 2) that life's lessons come to you in the most unexpected situations. Sure, there is sex dotted generously in this 2-hour film, but they are quickly outshadowed by everything else.
While I originally saw Y Tu Mama Tambien during the film festival in Venice, I was fortunate enough to buy a DVD copy of this movie in Hongkong (foreign movies in this format are released much earlier here) and add it to my growing collection of must-see movies.
Watch this one or buy/rent the DVD, you won't be disappointed.
on May 5, 2002
There will never be an American film like "Y Tu Mama Tambien"--certainly not as long as the Weitz and Farrelly brothers hold sway in Hollywood. Alfonso Cuaron takes the basic plot of a Hollywood teen sex comedy--two rowdy teens take the woman of their dreams on a road trip to the beach--and makes something amazingly nuanced, powerful and moving from it. Middle-class Julio and wealthy, politically connected Tenoch are recent high-school graduates looking forward to a summer of hot sex and getting wasted. At a wedding reception, they meet Luisa, the sexy wife of Tenoch's older cousin, and spin a tall tale about Heaven's Mouth, the beautiful, secluded (and nonexistent) beach where they plan to spend their summer. Nothing more is said about this until--after receiving two very bad pieces of news--Luisa calls Tenoch and tells him she's coming with them. From then on, you get some traditional road-trip horseplay and sexual badinage, but also some things American audiences wouldn't expect, as the trip simultaneously fulfills Julio and Tenoch's brightest dreams and brings their illusions crashing down to earth. A trip that begins in youthful high spirits ends in lasting sorrow and painful self-knowledge. Throughout the movie, Cuaron has an omniscient narrator tell us facts Julio, Tenoch and Luisa never learn about each other; he also has a running commentary on characters the three pass on their way--poor and oppressed Mexicans who will never know the luxuries the protagonists take for granted. The political and class divisions of Mexico are a powerful undercurrent in this movie, adding to its sting and poignancy; the moment in which Tenoch and Julio finally turn their class resentments on each other comes unexpectedly, but inevitably. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is extremely profane and contains loads of explicit sex--it is emphatically not for the easily offended. But in delineating the narrow lives of his three main characters, Cuaron illuminates universal truths about human nature, with a touch so sure you'd swear that Chekhov had been transplanted to 21st-Century Mexico. Maribel Verdu (Luisa), Gael Garcia Bernal (Julio) and Diego Luna (Tenoch) are superb actors as well as being extremely sexy, and one hopes that more movies starring them will make their way across the border.
on April 14, 2003
I am giving this review 3 stars because I know Amazon will apply it to both of the two versions of this movie they sell, the R-rated one and the unrated (probably NC-17) one. Quite simply, the R-rated one (which I saw) is maybe 2 stars, and (according to my wife, a native Mexican) the unrated is 4-5 stars. Hence, an average of 3 stars.
My wife, a professor of Spanish Literature at a major US university, first saw this movie at a film festival and came home to tell me I had to see it. Well, by & by it came out on DVD and I rented it, picking up the R rate one, not realizing there were two versions. Comparing the technical data, it appears there are 5-6 minutes cut from the original (unrated) version for this R version. As we watched the movie, my wife almost immediately began saying "huh, what's going on?" Almost all of the most explicit scenes were cut. Based upon what my wife said of what they were (I have yet to see the full version), the first few expurgations were of only minor relevance to the plot, but the very final one (most of the scene in the cabana during the last night the boys spent with Luisa on the beach) is absolutely critical to understanding the whole point of the movie, and what happened in the conclusion. Obviously I don't want to say what happened & what was said in that scene missing from the R-rated version, since it would ruin the movie, and I don't want to do that to anyone. As it is, watching this R-rated version has ruined it for me -- sure I can go and look for the unrated one, but it won't be the same now that I already know what will happen.
Put simply, the R-rated version has a totally incoherent ending due to the cuts made to achieve the R rating. I found it completely unsatisfying, and my wife (who loved the full version, which I presume to be the one on the "unrated" DVD) said she would also have had a totally different opinion of hte movie had she seen only the R-rated one. The unrated is not for the sexually squeamish apparently -- the movie shows male sexuality in a way that Hollywood never would; remember the near NC-17 rating some movie recently almost got because it showed even just a male star's bare behind? -- but for the most part the sexuality is apparently "realistic" and plot-driven, not gratuitous.
In summary, my wife, who has seen both, would say that if you are willing to "risk" offense at the explicit sexual scenes of the unrated verson, it is a must-see; but if you are nervous and would opt for the R-rated version, don't bother, it is a waste of time. My wife attended the film festival screening (ie unrated version) with a number of colleagues and students, and apprently at least one of the more conservative undergraduates was a bit put off by the masterbatory scene at the beginning, among others.
A couple other notes on the movie - I found the use of voice-over narration entirely too heavy-handed (my wife is more forgiving of it however). And the quality of the subtitle translation is poor - I speak basic spanish but need subtitles to follow a movie completely, so I tend to be listening and reading at the same time when watching movies such as this. At times the disconnect between what the dialogue and the subtitles said was bewildering.
on November 20, 2002
Image a much more overtly sexual "The Graduate." Transplant the setting to Mexico. Make Benjamin Mexican, younger (17), and give him a best friend. Make Ms. Robinson younger (28), Spanish, gorgeous, and give her a deep secret.
Now imagine a road trip movie, but one with intelligence, sensitivity, and depth (in addition to the usual sex, drugs, and rock & roll).
Got it? You now have the foundation for a delightful, thought-provoking film-- Y Tu Mama Tambien.
I really loved this film. It perfectly captures the coming of age adventures of young men. There is only one thing on the top of their minds, and this film gives a realistic, frank look into those minds. The sub-plots deal with deeper issues: friendship, honesty, trust, commitment, betrayal, sexual identity, death, memory, class, Mexican culture, and politics- all blended into a delightful, beautiful film.
Julio and Tenoch (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) are superb as the raging-hormoned 17 year olds. They mix machismo, sensitivity, recklessness, teen stupidity, and soul-searing, life-changing discovery. As the older woman, Maribel Verdú, Luisa Cortes shines. She is gorgeous, frail, emotionally shattered, strong, in control, and teaches the two young men about the richness of sex.
There is a LOT of sex in this film; after all, it is about two seventeen year old boys, on a road trip with a gorgeous older woman whose husband just confessed to infidelities. Maribel Verdú has reason to experience new sexual adventures; she talks intimately and frankly with the boys about sex, and Julio and Tenoch are willing students. Director Alfonso Cuarón gives us a view of real sex, raw sex. The film is frank about the psyche of teenage boys-- a lot of talk (and action) related to self-gratification and sexual acts of all sorts. But it is handled differently from most American teen sex films: not the brainless, sniggering, puerile portrayal but rather the naked facts of life and love. If you are offended by such frankness, this is not a film for you. But if you would like a film that directly and beautifully deals with the subject, you will love Y Tu Mama Tambien.
on October 5, 2004
Tenoch and Julio are a couple of young adolescent men from very different backgrounds: Tenoch is from a privileged family in the elite Mexican political class while Julio's single mother is a secretary. They are nonetheless the best of friends, horsing around as adolescent males will with their farting and coarse humour while they wait to start university. Then, at a boring party, they meet the beautiful Luisa, rather older than they are and married to a cousin of Tenoch's. They mouth off about `Heaven's Mouth' a fabulous beach they have made up to impress her and urge her she should join them on a road trip there. The next day, to the astonishment of the two young men - who do not realize that in the meantime her husband has confessed that he has been unfaithful to her- she agrees to go...
This movie creeps up on you. The early scenes are quite amusing but I felt a bit disengaged - Julio and Tenoch are not, at this point in the proceedings, particularly easy to like. But then the emotional plot starts to thicken and matters get more and more complicated all with a relentless and entirely gripping poetic logic. By the end of it I was more or less speechless. It's an outrageously beautiful, wonderfully truthful movie. There are very few road movies that bring such depth to the great central metaphor of that genre. And while there are many thousands of movies that clearly consider themselves `erotic' and are not, this is one of the very few that really earns that potent little adjective. Absolutely unmissable.
on September 24, 2005
There are many levels to this alluring film that may go unnoticed by the Non-Mexican viewer. I was impressed by the beauty of this film the first time I saw it, but my second viewing of it with friends from Mexico was more rewarding. There are interesting sociological aspects to the film given the contrasting rich and poor lifestyles of Tenoch and Julio, and other cultural nuances of the Mexican countryside's lifestyle.
The coming of age theme is one that may put people off as it can sometimes be associated with Hollywood's squeaky clean teen dramas that are packed full of cliches. However viewers can rest assured that 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' offers something far more inticing. What makes 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' so achingly real is the bumbling awkwardness with which these teenage boys try to impress Luisa, their older Spanish lady friend. These boys are certainly not lady's men and their womanising, just like their love making, lacks maturity.
Director Carlos Cuaron also takes a look at the difficulties that can develop in friendships, more specifically male friendships. The silent awkwardness and problems that remain unsaid keeps the relationship between Julio and Tenoch on edge for much of the film. Another interesting aspect of the writing is the form that the character development takes. We learn who the characters are simply by hanging out with them, mainly while they smoke joints in the back of the car.
'Y Tu Mama Tambien' is a beautiful and moving film which is by turns humourous, playful and poignant. It's relaxed ambling pace and varying moods will leave the viewer with a fresh outlook on life.
on May 8, 2002
In his last film, the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow remake of "Great Expectations", I felt like director Alfonso Cuaron wasn't able to fully spread his wings and use all his talents. Hampered by the rigid structure of the book, Cuaron had to scratch and claw to get his beautifully arty shots into the film. That particular tension doesn't exist here. In tackling a road movie like this, one with a searching narrative, Cuaron is able to lead his camera into nooks and crannies as much as he desires, in order to find true cinema rather than just a movie. One shot in particular stands out. After enduring a lengthy conversation at a picnic table, the camera abruptly gets up and leaves, exploring the kitchen area of the restaurant. There it finds a gaggle of old washerwoman, dancing sprightly to the music playing on the radio. It's a moment of pure joy that has nothing to do with the story being told, but doesn't need to. Cuaron also has a fun time, during the many car scenes, letting his camera float from the car to capture crucifix imagery; one is painted on a rock face, another marks a grave. The agnostic in me wanders if he's making a grand religious statement, i.e., the characters must bypass the cross in order to get to Heaven (or rather Heaven's Mouth, the name of a beach that doesn't exist... or does it?). On the other hand, knowing how this all ends, maybe it's a condemnation of their nihilistic ways. A movie that offers paradoxical interpretations through one dominant motif is just fine in my book.
Cuaron composes his scenes through a series of long cuts. I've always loved this technique, for it allows the director and the actors to subtly build tension over the length of the take, and it creates a voyeuristic feeling in the audience. Cuaron's actors never let the takes stray from the reality of the scene, and for a film dominated by two actors in their early twenties, that is saying something.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Julio Zapata, and Diego Luna plays Tenoch Iturbide. The boys are real teenagers: animalistic, horny, insensitive, passionate, stupid, etc. But each is exceptional in his own way. Bernal captures lower-class pride, but also envy of his richer friend. Luna, playing the son of a man important enough to invite the President to his daughter's wedding, captures Tenoch's reckless and wasteful rebellion quite well. The boys together are stunning, ably showing the close bond that Julio and Tenoch share. In the beginning they are asked to play scenes that at first strain all credulity (lying next to each other on diving boards, pants down by their ankles, I wondered, "Is this how teenage boys bond these days?"), but given the benefit of hindsight, perfectly show the exact relationship that they share.
Maribel Verdu plays Luisa Cortes, the older woman who tags along with Julio and Tenoch on their way to the beach. Luisa is a fascinating and complex character, much more than the buxom babe that she at first appears to be. Maribel has to play several scenes where she is crying uncontrollably, and to her credit they never cross the line from stark to maudlin. She also has to become the catalyst for the boys sexual reawakening, and she pulls off the desirability and sensitivity of this part of her character with stunning assurance.
The sex scenes, and there are four of them, are clumsy, energetic, graphic, and, well, quick (in a sense). The film opens with an unapologetic shot of Tenoch in bed with his girlfriend. She is leaving for Europe the next day, and Tenoch, in mid coitus, makes her promise not to "[sleep with] any Italian guys". It is a perfect note to begin for a film as free and open and immature as this one.
That being said, most of the film's first third didn't work for me. A clumsy narrator intrudes often to give the audience background information on each of the characters. I'd prefer to be shown this kind of thing than told about it. But eventually, the narrator settles into another function, one that amplifies the film greatly. He starts to break into the action with talk about the characters' unmentioned pasts, then their unmentionable presents, and then their unknowable futures. We find out that one secondary character, a fisherman, will soon be put out of work by the coming influx of commercial fishing companies; seeing this man, happy in his element while the audience knows his fate, is a heartbreaking moment. The film becomes, then, just a snapshot of these people's lives, one that is affected by all that came before, and that truly affects all that comes after. In some very surprising and extreme ways. Be patient with the clumsiness of the beginning, for you will see that it was necessary when you get to the poignant end. This is a fine film that truly gains power upon reflection afterward.