I wrote a longish piece about Y Tu Mamá También in the first year of this blog, more than ten years ago. It was a response to something my sister had written (in the early days of the blog, other people could write posts, not just comments). She had seen the movie after I gave it a 10 out of 10 rating; she hated it. I think it’s one of the better things I’ve written about movies, and I’m not going to duplicate it here. Instead, I thought to talk a bit about my thoughts on watching it again in 2013. (If you are interested in the give-and-take between my sister and I, you can read her initial comments here.)
Perhaps because our discussion revolved around the representation of adolescent male sexuality, I completely ignored the subtle ways Cuarón shows us the class system in Mexican society. There’s the obvious fact that one of the two guys is upper class, while the other is middle class, which occasionally pushes its way to the surface. But it is also there in the background, as Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa drive through Mexico on their way to a mystical beach. Death is everywhere … we see roadside memorials, and the narrator offers stories that don’t always end well. The police are always stopping and harassing people, although they never bother the higher-class threesome. Beggars ask for money, sometimes using ingenious tactics that amount to amiable robbery, and the three heroes never act surprised, and they always give the money. (There are also times when a poor person makes a gift of something just because one of the travelers shows an appreciation for it.) No matter how carefree the trip to the beach seems (and it is never only carefree), such instances ground the story in the lives of the people in the background: the three people in the car can afford to drop everything for a brief vacation, but the people living in the places they stop don’t have the time or the money for such a lark.
I think I may have taken the film’s sexuality for granted when I first saw it. That it, I knew it was delightfully free in a way American movies, at least, rarely are, but I didn’t consider how much it was outside the norm. The list of great erotic movies is very short, and those movies are not to be taken for granted. It is also interesting the way Cuarón allows Maribel Verdú’s Luisa to be more than just the experienced woman who teaches the young boys about sex. There is the moment when she lays down the law, demanding that she be in charge, listing ten items that must be followed (more than one of which comes down to “shut up”), and the guys acquiesce because they know she’s been in charge all along. There’s the way the human body is presented in the film … while we see plenty of Verdú, we see even more of the bodies of Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal. Verdú isn’t presented as the only object of the audience’s gaze; she is not the only thing we look at. And the sizzling sexuality of the character comes not because Verdú looks great with her clothes off (although she does, as do Luna and Bernal), but because the script allows Verdú to shine as a character of depth. In fact, though on the surface this is a story about a journey of two young men, ultimately it is Luisa that we learn the most about. And Luisa comes to accept who she is, while Tenoch and Julio force themselves to forget what they’ve learned.
Alfonso Cuarón has become a favorite director of mine, working in a variety of genres. I thought A Little Princess was pretty good; he directed the only Harry Potter movie I liked; I found Children of Men good enough to assign to one of my classes. Y Tu Mamá También is his best film. It was in the last group of movies I cut when trimming my list down for the Facebook Fave Fifty project (it would have been #76). The latest update is being revealed gradually, but last year it ranked #11 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 10/10.