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I’ve been a fan of Alfonso Cuaron since seeing his beautifully directed A Little Princess as well as his wildly popular installment in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Anyone familiar with both these films can easily detect the similarities in style, so I was a bit surprised to find Y Tu Mama Tambien a different viewing experience. This film could have easily been an entry in our List of Shame Files, but I decided to include it as a Netflix pick because anyone with access should probably see it.
The premise of the film is simple: two teenaged prats, Tenoch and Julio, find themselves bored in the heat of summer when their girlfriends leave for a trip to Europe. Both are guests at a wedding were they meet Luisa, the wife of a distant cousin of Tenoch’s. The boys are planning a trip to a legendary beach called “Heaven’s Mouth,” to quell their restlessness, and they invite the sexy Luisa, 10 years their senior, to come along. It isn’t until her husband tells her he slept with another woman that she reluctantly decides to go. What results is a “roadtrip story” where these two boys undergo some serious sex education from the more mature and emotionally aware Luisa.
I put “roadtrip story” in quotes because aside from the journey metaphor there isn’t much rhyme or reason to them being in a car traveling to some beach that may or may not actually exist. The threesome look out their windows and see scenes from the surrounding Mexican landscape, the poverty of those left behind by a growing economy, and places from their own memory that are never shared with their companions.
A large part of this film is centered around the search for truth and what happens when one is confronted with it. During the trip, each character gradually reveals a host of personal information regarding their sexual history, yet there are other seemingly less personal truths that each character chooses to play close to the cuff, because if such information were known by others, it could destroy the false reality they are trying to maintain. It is this film’s sexual inhibition that makes it shine-the public depiction of sex in such a real, raw yet intimate, and truthful way.
It is Luisa who initiates the sex talk on this trip, but she isn’t trying to be salacious. She is playful, teasing the boys who think they know everything about pleasing a woman when in reality they can only please themselves. She tests them, and they are always in awe of her not necessarily in a sexual way, but as a woman different from their girlfriends, who has experienced life the way a bored teenager can only dream. It is the contradictory experiences of these characters that give the film emotional depth, like when the camera closes in on Luisa in a phone booth saying goodbye to her husband with tears in her eyes while a reflection of the boys laughing and playing foosball is seen in an adjacent window. Two different understandings of the world struggling to reconcile.
I want to stress here, that Luisa’s interest in cultivating the boy’s sexuality is not at all predatory. In fact, it can almost be seen as preventative care for the boys, and the girls they are with in the future. Luisa always knew of her husband’s transgressions, which stemmed from a need of reassurance from women about his sexual prowess. It was a lack of communication, and a fear of experimenting with his own wife that lead him astray. So Luisa teaches them about giving and receiving pleasure both ways, and the intimacy that should be shared between both partners-another example of orgasm being a journey as oppose to a destination. What results are sex scenes that exude all the sensual clumsiness of the real thing and all the mistakes a sexual newbie hopes to forget and learns to laugh at as time ages him.
With all its praises, Y Tu Mama Tambien also has one flaw for me, and that is what I perceived to be a rushed character development in the beginning of the film. The only truly interesting character is Luisa, which is obviously the way the story is setup to portray, but I wish I could have felt more for the boys. That being said, Cuaron’s screenplay does wonders to create the perfect dialogue for each character, from the whiny, brooding adolescents, to the mature and ever-seeking Luisa. I didn’t start to really like this film until the second act, after a fight between Julio and Tenoch results in a pitch-perfect violent outburst from Luisa that sums up the boys, the trip, and pretty much everything else. From there, the film hit a new stride that made the last 45 minutes of the film very memorable.
This film isn’t for everyone, but it is certainly an achievement. It’s a shame that the film didn’t get much of a release in the States…but why should that surprise anyone? The more films like Y Tu Mama Tambien I see the more embarrassed I become at America’s brand of offensive sexuality, and the inability to acknowledge that watching sex does not need to be pornographic. Until the MPAA rating system is destroyed however, we’ll have to rely on Netflix. You can view Y Tu Mama Tambien here.