Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Alfonso Cuarón | Y Tu Mamá También

heaven’s mouth
by Douglas Messerli

Carlos Cuarón and Alfonso Cuarón (screenplay), Alfonso Cuarón (director) Y Tu Mamá También / 2001 
On the surface of its narrative, Alfonso Cuarón’s film Y Tu Mamá También is a teenage road movie, as two young Mexican boys travel with an older married woman across the Mexican landscape on their way to an imaginary seaside beach—which, amazingly, they actually do stumble upon. The tale of Tenoch (Diego Luna), from a wealthy family, and Julio (Gael García Bernal), from a middleclass leftist family, is also a coming of age movie, as the two teenagers falsely brag about their sexual conquests, have sex with the beautiful woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), and ultimately discover themselves in each other’s arms in bed.

But these genres are overlaid by much more fascinating issues when Cuarón and his writer brother also reveal the cultural differences of rural and privileged city life in Mexico, as we serve as witness to events along their route; and, similarly, they transform their work into a kind of “sentimental education,” as, along the road, Luisa subtly teaches these horny young boys how to actually behave with and even come to love women, which, apparently, her own husband—who has just told her that he has been having an affair with another woman—has never learned. 
     Finally, the film is an elegy to Luisa, who at the end of the voyage is described by the boys, who have gone their separate ways but accidently run into each other again, as having died of cancer.

     Although Cuarón uses a narrator to fill in narrative gaps and past facts, the film does not judge its characters or the political situations it reveals, but simply and openly displays images to the viewer, allowing the audience to make their own inner perceptions. His method is particularly useful when it comes to the subject of sex, which, as critic Roger Ebert, adamantly observed, is presented so very differently here than in most US movies. 
     One can imagine an US version of this film in which the camera leers over the naked bodies of first Tenoch and Luisa, and then, to bring the boys to equal status, Julio and Luisa. Most certainly Luisa would have been judged as a loose woman if not an outright slut. But in the Mexican version she is more of an older tutor, a beautiful teacher demonstrating to them the art of lovemaking, teasing them for their sexual taunts, and yet fully enjoying the sexual act. She is, after all, a jilted woman who is near death, and she almost wisely has agreed to the trip to help relieve some of her inner feelings of emptiness.


     Even when the boys find themselves in a homosexual moment, we recognize that the passions moving through their young bodies was simply momentarily out of control; we have no evidence that they are possibly closeted gays. Sex, in this film is simply a pleasurable experience with no sense of negative consequence or guilt. And the experiences of this summer clearly change both Tenoch’s and Julio’s life in positive ways.
      Similarly, the sometimes odd or perhaps even threatening behavior of some of the rural natives is met rather good-naturedly, particularly with Luisa explaining things from the back seat. When they pass police checkpoints, ride by traffic accidents, and, at one point, are blocked by a flower-covered checkpoint by celebrants of a girl dressed in white, a stand-in for the Virgin, Luisa calms their fears.  “You have a beautiful bride,” she quietly says, as they pay a small donation so that they may pass.
     Despite this film’s objectivity and serenity, however, we recognize that, psychologically, all three characters are experiencing something like an earthquake, a momentous moment in their lives that will make the boys into different people than they might have been before their voyage; and which, hopefully, provided Luisa some final peace of mind. After all, they found Heaven’s Mouth, the name of the famed beach, without really knowing where it was.

Los Angeles, August 17, 2016

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