Sunday, April 23, 2006

Y tu mama tambien


Dir: Alfonso Cuaron (Great Expectations [1998]; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

This movie really fooled me. I have seen a few contemporary Mexican films lately, many of them heavily influenced by an uber-cool Tarantino-esque celebration of bad behavior and the underworld. And when this movie began telling the story of two cocky teenage boys, I began to have a strong reaction against them, hoping that their ealry plot to seduce an older married woman would fail and that the film would resist glamourzing their aggressiveness. But then, this movie suprised me by presenting a very complex study of sex and honesty. Its depth is the exact opposite of a hip and highly stylized celebration of cruelty and excess, and is quite a good movie.

Tenoch and Julio are two boys whose girlfriends have left for the summer. In their quest to get laid, they encouter Ana, the wife of Tenoch's cousin. Ana has been betrayed by her husband, and agrees to accompany the boys to the beach in a bid for sexual revenge. Along the way, it becomes increasingly clear that the aggressive and self-confident boys are really just boys, all sizzle and no steak and unable to understand sexuality at an adult or emotional level. As the triangle unfolds, the movie explores all angles of a sexual relationship including jealousy, honesty, promiscuity and commitment, and performance of the act itself. The facade of casual sex grows increasingly complicated as the characters search deeper and deeper into each others' unstated feelings.

I will not give the ending of the movie, but I recommend that you watch it. As the layers of subterfuge and the masks of persona are lifted, this movie is not afraid to face the logical conclusion of its unflichingly honest portrayal of sexuality. The ending is believable, welcome, and quite poingant.

I have metioned honesty several times, and it is certainly the main point of the film. The narrator, in a device I found rather effective, stops a scene and tells us things that no one else in the film would know about the past or the future. For example, when the protagonists pass a cross painted on a stone by the side of the road, the narrator comes in to explain the details of the accident ten years ago that led to that symbol of morning. When another cross by the road is foregrounded in a later scene, we are reminded of the theme of unspoken truths. We can never understand the people around us, even our closest friends or lovers. And sex is maybe the most hidden and chaotic of human experiences (death being the other candidate). So much intersects at that moment, in that motion, that no one can ever really understand it.

There is also a poilitical message working here, but I think much is lost on a gringo like me. The father of one of the boys works for the then PRI government (never named but obviously implied), and the Zapatistas get a few scenes as well. The connections between sexual honesty and political honesty is never drawn out. The power of the metaphor, no doubt, relies on an insider's knowledge of Mexican politics.

This film is intellectually engaging and quite fun to watch unfold. There is also lots of nudity, for those more vulgar than your humble critic.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 4/24/2006 12:14:00 AM that...

The ending is indeed quite striking, but completely appropriate. It is the perfect punctuation to, as you say, a very honest movie.