Mexican Express

Manic in Mexico: Gael García Bernal as Julio, Maribel Verdú as Luisa, and Diego Luna as Tenoch in Y Tu Mamá También.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (And Your Mother Too) is the funniest and most emotionally charged erotic road movie since Bertrand Blier’s Going Places. Like that film, it’s both ribald and lyrical; the sexual prankishness is enclosed in a continuum of alienation. Cuarón, who co-wrote the script with his brother Carlos, doesn’t censor his imagination, and so the film has a wonderful let’s-try-it-on quality ranging easily from sadness to slapstick and back again. We’ve all seen (or consciously avoided seeing) plenty of Hollywood comedies about horny teens, but the two Mexican 17-year-olds in this film, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal, of Amores Perros), are perhaps the freest and most closely observed of their species to ever grace the screen. Y Tu Mamá También is like a Bill-and-Ted movie made by a true artist, and this in itself is a great joke.

The son of a corrupt upper-class politician, Tenoch says he wants to be a writer, but in truth, he doesn’t look or act much like one; he has the pinched face of a spoiled-brat scion. His best friend, Julio, the son of a single mom, is from a far more meager background. He moves wide-eyed through Tenoch’s orbit, tickled by the erotic possibilities lying in wait for him in all this easy affluence. (In the class war, sex is the great leveler.) Left alone for the summer without their vacationing girlfriends, the boys practically jump out of their skins. They’re in heat. Then Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the beautiful 28-year-old Spanish wife of a philandering cousin of Tenoch’s, takes up their offer to drive with them to a secluded beach called Heaven’s Mouth, which in fact does not exist. The boys made it up as a lure, and now they can’t believe their luck. As the trio moves through the flat landscape of cows and peasants and fishermen and police, the wide-open spaces seem to both isolate them and expand their sense of play.

Cuarón captures the way a confining car trip can bring out a person’s true mania. Cooped up, these three get high on the rarefied atmosphere. (They get high on other things, too.) Luisa is a dream princess to the boys, but she’s also flagrantly slutty, and her duality makes them gaga. Tenoch and Julio (wonderfully played by Luna and Bernal) bounce off each other with the practiced ease of goofball comics, and they don’t clean up their act for Luisa; on the contrary, they crank up their adolescent dirty-mindedness. What they don’t quite comprehend is that she is using this road trip to unshackle herself. In one radiant scene, she awakes in the early morning and leaves the car to stride into the surf, and her sense of abandon, of liberation, is palpable. With her long, liquid face, Luisa has a sorrowing prettiness that gives the film a resonant undertow. After she makes the mistake of having sex with Tenoch and Julio, one at a time, she feels almost devoutly obligated to restore the balance between the friends she has inadvertently set against each other. She’s the temptress as angel of mercy.

The dolorous note in this comedy comes through in the intermittent, omniscient voice-over narration filling us in on these people’s lives and futures, as well as the lives of the people around them. (Godard and Truffaut did something similar in their films.) In his own digressive way, Cuarón is showing us the whole murmurous world of modern Mexico, and you get the feeling he could have taken off with any of the other people in this movie and created an odyssey that was equally mysterious and embracing. The trio in Y Tu Mamá También are seeking out a beach that does not exist, and yet they find it anyway. The vividness of the actual is the real magic in this movie.

Y Tu Mamá También
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón; starring Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú.

Photograph by Daniel Daza.

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