Monday, January 7, 2008

Y tu mamá también (2001)

Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too) (2001) directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Gael Garcia Bernal's directorial debut Deficit (2007), which I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, reminded me a great deal of this older film: the obtuseness of upper class privilege amidst the poverty and deprivations of Mexico, and, a representation of extreme class and racial differences between those Mexicans of European descent and those of Indian descent.

Tiny, perfect Bernal. So versatile and charismatic ... I can't think of three more different, textured performances in the recent past: the teenager Julio in Y tu mamá también, the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevera in The Motorcycle Diaries and Santiago, a Mexican badass in Babel.

During the Q&A with Bernal after the screening of Deficit, as the audience was filing out, one man behind me started to "scream" in a loud whisper of female hysteria "Ga-el! Ga-el!" The women nearby giggled nervously but he pretty much echoed what we were all thinking ...

This was the first Mexican film that made me consider the middle class of Mexico, how very different these lives were from the stereotypic images of the working class and "peasant" Mexicans that we are often presented with in American film and TV.

In the film, we meet Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), two seventeen-year old Mexican boys of different classes. Julio is middle class, although in moments of conflict, Tenoch calls him a peasant and elicits a tirade of abuse from Julio. Tenoch's family is very wealthy. They are, for instance, invited to a wedding where the Mexican President is present.

At that wedding, they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a gorgeous twenty-eight year old Spaniard, whom we will soon learn is unhappily married to Jano, a distant cousin of Tenoch’s. The boys are self professed Charolastras, Mexican slang meaning "space cowboys", with eleven edicts that have to do with the predictable things that 17 year old boys are interested in: masturbation, girls, fidelity to each other, male friendship.

The boys, now slightly drunk and very turned on by Luisa, impetuously invite her to accompany them on a road trip to Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth), a non-existent beach with an appropriately romantic name. A few days later, Luisa, receives some difficult news and coupled with revelations of Jano's newest infidelities accepts their offer.

On the way, the boys vie for Luisa's attentions, reveal their experiences with girls (or lack thereof), and, are alternately seduced by the unhappy Luisa who shows them a trick or two in that area. As one review phrased it, Luisa is the "catalyst of self-discovery" for the boys in more than one way.

But director Cuarón is clever at subtly revealing the "real" Mexico underneath the privilege and infantile squabbling of the three. On the road, they obliviously pass ordinary Mexicans being harassed by the police and the military, see the poverty and the devastation of the countryside and encounter the generosity of rural people. They seem inured to it all, with the boys arguing whose penis is bigger or who was a bigger traitor when they screwed the other's girlfriend. Luisa, although older is no better at times, haranguing the boys about their sexual ineptitude, immaturity and their obvious betrayal of their own charolastra ideals.

When they accidentally come upon a beach whose name actually is Boca del Cielo they all seem to find some stability. Luisa is at peace, deciding to stay on with the humble fisherman and his family they have met. The boys get to know each other a little better than they had anticipated in unexpected ways. However, when they return home their new intimacy unnerves them and they never share the closeness they had before the trip. They meet one last time and Tenoch reveals one last devastating detail about Luisa that Julio did not know.

I loved it and I loved Bernal as a vacuous, spoiled teenager who is changed forever by Luisa and this trip through Mexico.

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