A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, February 27, 2017

Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

Y Tu Mamá También is kept aloft for so long by wit and energy, and by the skills of its actors, director, and cinematographer, that it's a disappointment to consider the way it deflates a little at the end. It is, on the whole, a brilliant transfiguration of several well-worn genres: the teen sex comedy, the road movie, the coming-of-age fable. Director Alfonso Cuarón has credited Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Féminin (1966) as a major inspiration, but I think it owes as much to François Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), not least in its superbly ironic use of the voiceover narrator (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who provides a larger context for the actions of the three main characters. It's the narrator, for instance, who tells us that the traffic jam that holds up our middle-class teenagers was caused by the death of a working man who tried to cross the freeway because otherwise he would have had to walk a mile and a half out of his way to use the only crossing bridge. Or that Chuy (Silverio Palacios), the fisherman who befriends the trio when they finally reach the secluded beach, will lose his livelihood to developers and commercial fisheries and wind up as a janitor in an Acapulco hotel. Somehow, Cuarón manages to avoid heavy-handedness with these comments, injecting the necessary amount of serious social commentary into a story about two horny Mexico City teenagers and the older woman who goes in search of a beach called "Heaven's Mouth" with them. Even in the story, the subtext of social class in contemporary Mexico keeps peeking through: There's a slight tension between the upper-middle-class Tenoch (Diego Luna), whose father is a government official, and the lower-middle-class Julio (Gael García Bernal) that's suggestive of Tenoch's sense of privilege. Similarly, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), who was trained as a dental technician, confesses to a sense of inferiority to her husband, Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina), Tenoch's cousin, and his better-educated friends. The screenplay by Cuarón and his brother, Carlos Cuarón, deserved the Oscar nomination it received for these attempts to provide a deep backstory for the characters. Even so, the film owes much to the obvious rapport between Luna and García Bernal, and to the steady centering influence of Verdú, all of whom participated in rehearsals that were often improvisatory embroidering on the Cuaróns's screenplay. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who would go on to receive three consecutive Oscars for much showier work on Cuarón's Gravity (2013) and on Alejandro Iñárritu's Birdman (2104) and The Revenant (2015), here maintains a strictly documentary style of camerawork, though often with the subtle use of long takes and wide-angle lenses. As I said, I think the film deflates a bit at the end with the revelation of Luisa's death: It seems an unnecessary attempt to moralize, to provide a motive -- knowing that she has terminal cancer -- for her running away and having sex with the boys, turning it into only a final fling. Would we think less of Luisa if she were simply asserting her right to be as pleasure-driven as her philandering husband? Were the Cuaróns attempting to obviate slut-shaming by giving Luisa cancer? I hope not, because the film shows such intelligence and sensitivity otherwise.

No comments: