Sunday, July 10, 2011

Short Review: Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)

The sexy Y Tu Mama Tambien, which translates to "And Your Mother Too", is a 2001 Mexican drama/comedy directed by the great Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men). He co-wrote the original screenplay, which gathered a nomination at the 2011 Academy Awards, with his brother Carlos. The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros) and Diego Luna (Before Night Falls) as two teenage boys who take a coming-of-age road trip with an adventurous older woman, played by Maribel Verdu (Pan's Labyrinth).

Y Tu Mama Tambien focuses on two boys who have just graduated from high school, and are at the cusp of adulthood and a life of personal responsibility. We are first introduced to best friends Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) as they are engaged in sex with their girlfriends one last time before the girls leave on a trip to Italy. Having just started their summer holidays, they quickly find themselves bored without their girlfriends around.

At a wedding they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the attractive Spanish wife of Tenoch's cousin, Jano. Trying to impress her, they discuss taking a trip to a fictional secluded beach called 'Heaven's Mouth', which they invite her to. That night Luisa receives a call from her out-of-town husband, who tearfully confesses to a number of infidelities. She calls the boys and asks to accompany them on their proposed road trip. Trying to make sense of their wayward directions, they travel through poorer rural regions of Mexico, passing the time by discussing their various sexual experiences, and landing themselves in several awkward and embarrassing situations.

The film at times utilises periodic interruptions of the soundtrack and audio features to provide a voiceover narration that reveals out of context facts about the characters and settings depicted in the story. The visual action often continues while this narration takes place. In addition to expanding the narrative, these function as "footnotes" and sometimes draw attention to economic and political issues in Mexico at the time (1999). The dialogue, which also could be partly improvised, feels so natural that there are times you forget you are watching a film. The witty voice-over, the unabashed discussions of sex and sexuality, and Luisa's contemplations of mortality and death, contribute to giving this screenplay a complex thematic base.

The two boys share a natural bond that's abnormally close, even for people their age. They are essentially inseparable. Throughout their trip secrets are revealed and they encounter feelings of jealousy leading to adolescent frustration. Their masculinity is challenged at times (both by one another and by Luisa) and they display juvenile antics (such as when Julio drives the car away just as Tenoch is reaching to enter), which prove they aren't quite ready to grow up. It becomes a personal journey of self-discovery, aided by Luisa, who is seeking to forget her tumultuous marriage and enjoy herself. Luisa at first encourages and influences their behaviours, but soon becomes tired of being caught in the middle of their conflict. Y Tu Mama Tambien also concludes differently than you might expect a 'coming-of-age' drama to, which is both surprising and devastating. Their interrelations are all superbly crafted, thanks to the strength of the screenplay and the excellent performances.

The film is enhanced by the wonderful soundtrack, which is a varied mix of catchy tunes, and by the use of the long-take, a feature of Alfonso Cuaron's filmmaking that I especially like. There are a few scenes that run for several minutes and follow the group as they drive and chat, or tracks them around the room through a number of planes of activity. You don't actually accept how long the take is until the scene ends and you realise that it was an uncut shot. This is a feature even more evident in Cuaron's 2006 masterpiece, Children of Men. With the doubly amusing and poignant Y Tu Mama Tambien, a near-flawless road movie, Cuaron has brought his powerful story to life by providing a rich portrait of Mexican rural communities at the turn of the century and by drawing compelling performances from his supremely talented cast.

My Rating: 5 Stars (A)


  1. Yay, glad you got it! This is one of my absolute favourites. I wish Bernal and Luna would reunite again on film, they've got such great chemistry!

  2. Never seen it. We own, another picture with much acclaim, that I've passed on.

  3. Definitely one of my all-time favorite films ever. I'm still waiting for word about the upcoming Criterion DVD release. Besides, I love Alfonso Cuaron. He and Guillermo del Toro will both be subjects of my Auteurs essay for next year as they will have new films out for 2012, hopefully.

  4. @ Anna - Yeah, they are brilliant together. It's such a sexy film, and I really like Alfonso Cuaron as a director. I want to watch 'Azkaban' and 'Children of Men' again haha.

    @ Duke - Make sure you see it someday, man.

    @ Steven - I think it's one of the top films of the decade. I love Alfonso Cuaron too, such an underrated director. He doesn't make many films. He gave new life to the HP series with Azkaban, and created another masterpiece with Children of Men. Writing on both of those directors will certainly make for an interesting read. Look forward to it.

  5. @5reel-Oh, Luna and Bernal are both going to star in the Will Ferrell Spanish language comedy Casa de mi Padre.

  6. Glad you liked this excellent movie. Lubezki's cinematography is brilliant--the way the camera enters scenes like an observer happening upon the characters; the way it moves and looks at people and events peripheral to the protagonists, as if it isn't always interested in the central plot (how often can you say that about a movie!). And the film as a political/historical allegory is fascinating, as well; note that all of the characters, even minor ones, share surnames with figures from Mexican history.

    By the way, first time visitor to the blog--excellent stuff!

    @5plitreel - Luckily, Bernal and Luna reunited for brother Carlos Cuarón's very strong feature debut, Rudo Y Cursi (2008). They do have great chemistry.

  7. @ James - Thanks for stopping by! Glad you are enjoying my blog!

    Y Tu Mama Tambien is an excellent film. I love the use of the camera, and the way it continues to observe, once the action of the scene has completed. It is true, it's rare that you find this in a film. I read that the characters share surnames with Mexican figures, but I did not notice this when I watched the film. It is an excellent screenplay, and the chemistry between the three leads is impeccable too.

    I have seen a DVD cover featuring both Bernal and Luna. It must be this one. Thanks for the comment!