Every once in a while, a movie comes along that holds you in it’s grip for two hours, shatters you’re expectations, and leaves you breathless at the end; still not totally grasping this new view of life you’ve just been provided. Director Alfonso Cuaron did this to me once before with 2006′s Children of Men, and he’s done it again with his totally different, yet very similar Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Y Tu Mama Tambien combines the elements of many different genres, and blends them beautifully together into a whole. It displays the kind of humor and truthfulness you’d find in a Judd Apatow movie with the conflicted love triangle of a recent Woody Allen drama.
The film is set in Mexico City, Cuaron’s hometown. The story centers around two rich teenagers, Aztec-named Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal). After their girlfriends abandon them for Europe for the summer, they hang around and drink and get high until they eventually grow bored. At a political event, they meet the enchanting, older Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a Spaniard visiting Mexico with her snobby writer boyfriend (Juan Carlos Remolina). Desperate for her attention and a getaway, the boys make up a story to her about a secret beach known as Heaven’s Mouth and invite her for a trip to the beach. Intrigued, she accepts and they set off on the road, barely knowing where they’re heading and unaware of the strange experience to come.
Narrated not by one of the teens but instead by a dull sounding old man whose never once present in the story, it gives off a feeling that the characters are being watched, perhaps by a God like figure or someone like The Big Lebowski’s Stranger; a man who has no relation to the characters but just finds an extreme fascination in their story. The narrator plays an important role in the movie, explaining backstories and bringing life to the vast Mexican desert.
As I mentioned before, Cuaron also directed 2006′s Children of Men, a film that is behind only There Will Be Blood and Kill Bill as the masterpiece of the decade. That film dealt with the horrors of an all too real dystopian future where humans are on the verge of extinction. Y Tu Mama Tambien on the other hand, is a modern day dark dramedy about two rich kids coming to terms with reality by leaving the confines of their safe homes and viewing the devastating poverty that makes up the rest of their country.
Like in Children of Men, Cuaron incorporates subtle political messages into this film by filling them into every frame rather than discussing them. Seeing it rather than talking about it works much more powerfully, especially the fact that Cuaron is one of the great visual storytellers of our time. He pays great attention to small details in every shot. The rundown villages of Mexico look like the refugee camps of Children of Men, only these ones are real.
Like Men, in Tambien the greatest storytelling technique is quite simply the camera itself. Like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the camera is constantly moving around and barely stops. In this film, it works perfectly, helping move the characters move through the countryside while capturing the restless energy of the two teens and their endless curiosity that moves the story along.
Y Tu Mama Tambien captures teenage angst like no one’s ever captured it before. It is daring and unafraid in it’s graphic portrayal of sex. The film finds a way to use that as both an element of drama and comedy, as well as a way to shape Tenoch and Julio’s relationship. The film doesn’t hesitate to go deep and hurt and disturb the audience as it is about false hopes and lost dreams. It looks beyond the world of the wealthy and goes deep into the harsh realities of life. Not all of the world is as rich as you are, and not every friendship is as perfect as Tenoch and Julio once though. Nope, sleep with an older woman you’ve never met before and things might change.
Y Tu Mama Tambien is probably the best film of the year 2002 and certainly one of the best of the decade. It is one that must be seen by those with a daring spirit. It is a movie that doesn’t escape you immediately after watching it. Director Alfonso Cuaron has joined the ranks of directors Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel) as part of the new movement of great Latin American cinema.
Some say this might be Latin America’s century. Well, maybe not (it’s probably China’s). But with more films like Y Tu Mama Tambien this will most certainly become Latin America’s century in the film world.
Recommended for fans of: Children of Men, Babel, Easy Rider, My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy, The Graduate, Superbad, Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Brokeback Mountain