Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:23 pm 
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Mexican masterpiece full of youth, sex, politics, economics, and death

Alfonso Cuarón's 'Y Tu Mamá También' is an instant classic that's bursting with sexy fun, but this Mexican movie about two oversexed boys on the road with a beautiful and sad older woman is haunted by tragedy and history - film history as well as the political and economic kind. It's amazing how Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, as Julio and Tenoch, work off each other: they have a hysterical time, laughing and laughing. I couldn't help wondering if when they shot some of these scenes they themselves may have been high on some of the superior grade 'sticky' mota their characters love and praise so much. These frisky pups, so eager for sex, so incompetent and over-hasty when they get the chance, having such a wonderful time with the sexy Spanish lady with the impressive tits, are very real, but quite symbolic: the Mexican upper class and the lower middle class, inseparable and cautiously in love with each other, going to bed with Spain to acquire some sophistication; but wait! -- Spain, Spain is dying, while Mexico, as Luisa (the assured, somber Maribel Verdú) tells the boys, 'breathes with life.' It's all haunted by mortality and pursued by corruption, and their summer is the end of an era for them. Back in Mexico City, their sexual tutor is gone and they are no longer friends; it's over, la commedia è finita. Julio and Tenoch have no choice but to act out their social destinies separately, as history decrees.

Alfonso Cuarón and his brother Carlos have produced a movie that is as sophisticated and multi-layered as it is entertaining. If last year's Mexican hit, 'Amores Perros,' was a homage (structurally, anyway) to Quentin Tarentino's 'Pulp Fiction,' this one is a homage to the French Nouvelle Vague and most specifically to Truffaut's 'Jules et Jim,' itself the tale of two different kinds of young men, bosom buddies both, more than a little in love with each other, unified and separated by their far more sophisticated lady love, embodied by the sublime and unforgettable Jeanne Moreau. The voiceovers in 'Y Tu Mamá' mimic the same device so often used in many New Wave movies, particularly in 'Jules et Jim,' and as in Truffaut's film they are a constant reminder of the fact that this is just a moment in time, that it all ends, and in Cuarón's version, the narrator talks about death, degeneration, road kill, disease, all kinds of disasters that happen around and before and after the events of the charming and ribald little story of Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa. The action freezes during these voiceovers to emphasize the momentary nature of the story and to break the jaunty rhythm with the introduction of an awareness of politics, mortality, and history. This goes well beyond the Nouvelle Vague model and as one writer has put it is as if the 'American Pie' DVD had a director's commentary by Susan Sontag or G.K. Galbraith. Sure, this movie is hilariously sexy and ebullient. But there's a whole lot going on here. The Mexican obsession with death is strong in 'Y Tu Mamá': the combination of death and vibrant sexuality and love of life is a rich dish for a gringo palate. But this isn't just spicy food: it's a brilliantly constructed movie that works on many levels.

Y Tu Mamá También' moves with an energetic and liquid flow from the first. This is very assured, almost blessèd, filmmaking. Scene follows scene with imperceptible grace, never held too long, never cut short. The visual rhythm is perfectly sustained. There aren't any wrong notes. The whole cast are constantly alive and right. Bernal and Luna just seem made to act in this film. (Bernal's beauty and his gifts are indicated by his presence in both this and 'Amores Perros,' and his receiving Mexico's highest film acting prize.) Cuarón works with a rich palate: his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, always has a lot going on in the frame. In a road house the camera just wanders off and catches local people, an old lady stiffly dancing to a radio. Mexico is constantly present without being commented upon (the voiceover doesn't belabor the images but augments them; the boys drive by many police roadblocks, oblivious of the repression). The landscapes are subtly beautiful, never conventional. (There's so much going on that I couldn't think of writing about the movie till I'd seen it twice.) But none of the peripheral action and scenery that make the palate of the movie so rich ever distract from the story. All focus is on the story and its irresistible momentum in every single frame, so it's only afterward that you realize the full complexity of 'Y Tu Mamá' and the beauty of its imagery. For me images that remain are a short tracking shot that goes over to the window of Luisa's flat and looks down to see her meet Julio and Tenoch and get into the car to go on their journey to the mythical beach; the country club pool, with its wide expanse, and the ranks of elegant modernistic lounge chairs behind a stream of water spraying the perfect lawn; the rich leathery tan of an old lady's face, momentarily glimpsed with a patch of red flower; a lovely shot in a bar, worthy of Cartier-Bresson, showing Luisa phoning her husband through a little window, while in an identical window we see reflected Julio and Tenoch playing a game of hand soccer; the pigs scattering across the beach at dusk and ruining the boys' encampment. Why some critics have called this movie lightweight (or even bothered to drag out the phrase 'road movie') I can't imagine; I guess they overlooked the burden of sad knowledge (and the cinematic genius) amid so much happy fun.

July 24, 2002

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