Life has its ways to teach us, confuse us, change us, astonish us, hurt us, cure us, and inspire us.
There is good reason why this film showed up on so many critics' 2002 Top 10 lists. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a film of tremendous emotional depth framed by layers of social, economic, and humanistic commentary. While the sexual component of the piece has received the most attention, it only represents the tip of the iceberg. This is a rare film that deserves a great deal of respect and appreciation.
Facts of the Case
Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) have just graduated from high school and are looking forward to a summer of freedom and adventure. With their girlfriends in Italy, these self-proclaimed Charo-lastras (Space Cowboys), armed with their own personal commandments for life behavior, are left to fill their days with young women, drugs, parties, and a litany of general teen angst. Enter Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the wife of Tenoch's cousin Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina). The boys are drawn to her like moths to a flame, but their pubescent overtures do nothing to endear the attention of the lovely but quiet, older woman. Or so we think. Imagine Tenoch's surprise when he receives a call from Luisa, asking whether their invitation of a road trip to a mysterious, secluded beach is still open. Hurriedly turning a come-on story into reality, the boys fall all over each other trying to impress Luisa, while still trying to act like smooth, confident men. Their adventures through the heart of this diverse, aged country steeped in culture has a profound impact on each of their lives, opening their eyes and minds to things they never knew and ultimately leaving them changed—for better or worse.
Writer Carlos Cuaron and Director Alfonso Cuaron take us on a 106 minute journey of transformation. We witness not only the transformation of Julio and Tenoch from boys to men, and Luisa from sheltered wife to liberated woman, but the transformation of Mexico from an isolated, albeit flawed jewel to a piece of capitalistic junk jewelry. Most importantly, we bear witness to the transformation of the human spirit from the jaded innocence of youth to the shockingly stark but uniquely beautiful reality of maturity. The Cuaron brothers persuade us to look beyond the surface of our everyday waking lives—beyond the automatons we are conditioned to be, beyond the petty jealousies, treacheries, and lies we use to shield ourselves from the true beauty, wonder, and amazement that lies within our natural surroundings and deep within each of us. The boys provide the conduit and renewed energy for Luisa to awaken from her living nightmare, finding purpose and meaning in her life. Luisa provides the boys with the catalyst they need to evolve beyond their spoon-fed upbringing. For it is Jano, Luisa's husband, who represents the type of man they are destined to become, if not for the undertaking of this journey.
For the most part, it is the film's unabashed sexuality that has drawn much of its media and critical attention. However, as in real life, sex is merely the flash that overlays the true substance of human connection. Yes, the film is very sexual, but its sexuality serves as the means of drawing individuals closer together to confront real issues we all face—love, honor, friendship, and trust. Tenoch is awoken to the fact that the only real parental love he has received has been from his nanny. Julio is awoken to the realization that he will never have the privileges and opportunities Tenoch has been blessed with. Luisa is made aware that to obtain true change in life requires her to make bold and sometimes frightening choices. Often times it takes an objective third party to observe and comment on things that we are unable to see in ourselves. While the boys help Luisa accept and free the true beauty and power that lies within her outwardly tortured soul, Luisa helps the boys discover that their friendship goes much deeper than either of them would ever admit. Armed with this knowledge, we have choices to make. Some choose to break their conditioning, accepting their power and natural gifts, and embracing their true purpose in life. Others are frightened by this knowledge and retreat back into a painful, soul numbing generic world, forsaking their talents, skills, and abilities in order to live the life others expect of them. The choice is ours. The power is in what we do with it.
The performances in this film are exceptional. Maribel Verdu, while not possessing the pure attractiveness of a Selma Hayek, is amazingly beautiful as the recently empowered Luisa. Her power and experience guides the boys down pathways they otherwise would never have taken. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna are almost equally impressive—very natural actors able to channel the aggressive and passionate emotions of boys on the verge of manhood. Their reactions, when the truth is finally made visible, give the film a rare emotional depth. Together, the three make a commanding ensemble, with neither taking the focus for longer than necessary. I would be very interested to see if this carries over to their other work, or if this film was a truly unique experience.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film's visual style is both sweepingly impressive and inherently intimate. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography captures the heretofore-unseen beauty of Mexico, away from the capitalized cities and overpopulated tourist areas. The small villages, lush countryside, and incredible faces of a country devoid of the material wealth we Americans clamor for, possess the love, happiness, and self-actualization we find so hard to attain. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a window to a world rarely seen—one we can learn much from, should we visit more often. The transfer exhibits a beautiful light grain, representative of life's gritty reality, with warmth of color and passion. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is most impressive when overlaying Latin rhythms atop Cuaron's explosive Spanish dialogue. The subtitles serve well without too much distraction, as the film's soul is found in its language. Don't be frightened off. You do not need to know Spanish to feel the emotion of these characters. As is often the case in heavy dialogue films, the center channel gets quite a workout, with only ambient noise coming through the surround speakers. As for the special features, there is quite a lot here for a foreign film. First up is an audio commentary by the cast. Unfortunately, you will need to know Spanish here, as there are no subtitles provided. Next is a 23 minute making-of featurette (with subtitles), giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the small but dedicated cast and crew during their own personal journey on this film. Three deleted scenes are also included (four minutes), although it is clear why Alfonso Cuaron had them removed from the final print. The highlight of the bonus features is a 12 minute comedic short film by Carlos Cuaron entitled Me La Debes. Subtitles are provided for the Spanish language track to this highly entertaining look at the sexual escapades of this upper-middle class Mexican family. The original theatrical trailer and one minute television spot, both in English, round out the disc.
Passed over as Mexico's official entry as Best Foreign Language Film for the 2002 Academy Awards, Y Tu Mama Tambien and the Cuaron brothers were nominated for Best Original Screenplay—one of two foreign films honored with a nomination this year. While people who hold these honors in high esteem might consider it a slight, the film's power and beauty speak for themselves. If you are intimidated or turned off by overt sexuality in films, you will want to purchase or rent the R-rated version. However, to appreciate the film in its original, unedited form, the Unrated version is the way to go. The difference being scenes containing full frontal nudity (both male and female) and the various characters' sexual encounters. For people who truly love the power and passion of film, I encourage you to seek out Y Tu Mama Tambien. You will want to watch it at least twice to absorb and appreciate the many levels on which it plays.
IFC Films and MGM are to be commended for bringing Y Tu Mama Tambien to American audiences. I look forward to seeing more work by Carlos and Alfonso Cuaron, as well as Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Diego Luna. Esto es una película verdaderamente increíble. El caso despidió!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Cast (In Spanish)
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