Y tu mamá también
Reviewed in April 2002
Top Ten List: #4 of 2001 (world premieres)
Top Ten List: #7 of 2002 (U.S. releases)
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Director: Alfonso Cuarón. Cast: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú, Juan Carlos Remolina, Andrés Almeida, Emilio Echevarría, Diana Bracho, Silverio Palacios, Mayra Serbulo, Ana López Mercado, María Aura, Liborio Rodríguez. Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón.

Photo © 2000 Producciones Anhelo, © 2001 IFC Films
Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también is a fantastically vital movie that manages to invest real humor, sensuality, and sympathy into a story about two adolescent boys acting like, well, adolescent boys—borrowing a car, ditching their hometown for a week, and concocting enough titillating details about their imaginary "destination" that a buxom, slightly older female acquaintance is cajoled into going along for the ride. When American filmmakers devote their energies to teenage road fantasies, how come we wind up watching implausible crap like Mad Love and Crossroads, where the characters seem both too polished to be true and too asinine to get interested in? Cuarón and an electric cast (including Gael García Bernal, the star of Mexico's last international sensation, Amores perros) get the details and the tones correct first—the greasy-haired dishevelment of most teenage slackerdom, the cultishness of car-worship and the religion of best-friendship, the immature "manifestos" that attempt to disguise utter aimlessness as the conscious result of strict behavioral choices. From this expertly rendered groundwork, the movie's larger social, sexual, and political reverberations can organically emerge with what feels like zero prodding.

As the deceptively casual narrative propels forward, one of the most poignant of Y tu mamá's many dimensions is the unconscious brio with which Tenoch and Julio, the two protagonists, and even Luisa, their temporary comrade-cum-chaperone, let the entire outside world roll like water off their backs. Several times during the movie, Cuarón and co-editor Alex Rodríguez freeze a frame so the voice-over narration, supplied by Daniel Giménez Cacho, can articulate a brief moment of interior reflection on some private memory, ethical quandary, or sexual possibility. Because the movie is not cruel, the contents of these introspections are never exactly vapid, and nor is the audience permitted to feel that Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa are completely innocent of real, adult dangers and dilemmas. But the very fact that these internal thoughts are mouthed by an outside, "invisible" voice implies how dissociated these characters often are from even their most safeguarded sentiments.

Meanwhile, armed militiamen apprehend impoverished-looking subjects on the sides of roads; politicians engage in overt corruption but are thanked and fêted by their well-outfitted families; and other, less connected families are rooted out of their homes by corporate developers. The film audience observes these peripheral events only glancingly. Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa remark on them even less, and the film takes on a fascinating status as a complex, ambivalent paean to youthful abandon: by the fifth act, childish fancies have had a strange way of coming true, but the enjoyment of them is muted and ephemeral. It is with a remarkable, entrancing combination of ignorance, bravery, self-protection, irresponsibility, and joyous libido that Cuarón's characters manage to block out their surroundings almost entirely, and still toast their glasses "to Mexico!" in their jubilant moments of late-night togetherness. Are these characters failing to notice the stuff of life, even in the country they're driving through, and in whose honor they keep pouring libations? While the boys fight about who farted, or who fucked whom, small allegories of contemporary Mexican life are perpetually speeding past their car-windows, like discarded Polaroids. Or, are the central threesome willfully sacrificing a broader consciousness of the world so they can react with more passion, more specific though confused attention, to the spontaneous experiences of sex, friendship, and adventure that life doles out to them as individuals?

Though its characters may be courageous or foolish, and probably a little of both, Y tu mamá también could hardly be smarter, funnier, or better composed, at least until its frantic and comparatively conventional epilogue. Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón's longtime cinematographer, uses his camera exactly as he did last year in Michael Mann's Ali, and with equally brilliant results: his endless nuances of chromatic tone, ever-changing exposure levels, and highly affective framing preserve the extemporaneous mood of the scripted material and still produce a textured and snappy-looking film. In general, the lively compositions and rambunctious tone of Y tu mamá también sheds light on why Cuarón's determinedly sleek remake of Great Expectations, with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, felt like such a pinched and maladroit affair. Nobody this attuned to the anarchic flow of youthful drives had any business mounting a twentysomething drama about the modishly young and the DKNY-wearing restless. We need more filmmakers like Cuarón, who speak with the greatest elegance when they are furthest away from big budgets and the pressures of pretension. If Abbas Kiarostami had a rebel-genius younger brother from Mexico, he might have made Y tu mamá también, which strikes me as about the highest compliment one could pay to a global filmmaker in 2002. A–


Academy Award Nominations (2002):
Best Original Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón

Golden Globe Nominations (2001):
Best Foreign-Language Film

Other Awards:
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Foreign-Language Film
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Foreign-Language Film
National Society of Film Critics: Best Foreign-Language Film
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Foreign-Language Film

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